Despite its name, the peanut is not truly a nut, but a legume: a plant which produces edible seeds enclosed in pods beneath the soil's surface. That's why peanuts are sometimes called ground nuts. Peanut seeds (kernels) grow into a green plant with oval leaves, and this develops flowers along the lower portion. The flowers pollinate themselves and then shed their petals as the fertilized ovary begins to enlarge. The ovary grows down to penetrate the soil, where it matures. A peanut plant will eventually produce as many as 40 or more mature pods.
Allergic reactions to peanuts are among the most severe: even tiny amounts can trigger an immune response, such as inflammation, rash, or shortness of breath. In the worst cases, there is instantaneous swelling and closing of the vocal chords, or the person goes into anaphylactic shock within hours or even minutes of exposure, accompanied by a sharp drop in blood pressure. About 200 people die each year from food-related anaphylactic shock; 80 percent of those cases are due to peanuts or other types of nuts.
Scientists are not sure why this happens, but they think it has something to do with the way peanuts are digested in the body. Peanuts produce large amounts of soluble protein, but also larger protein structures that are not as easily digested. They also travel quickly through the body via special cells designed to deliver large foreign bodies, like proteins, to the immune defense cells, which then mount a counter-attack, believing the molecules to be an invading virus or other toxin.
Are peanuts radioactive?
Contrary to popular rumors, peanuts are not highly radioactive. In fact, they contain much lower levels of naturally occurring radionucleides than many other foods. But Brazil nuts tend to accumulate high amounts of calcium, along with radioactive elements like barium and radium. They are often called the world's most naturally radioactive food.