GAINESVILLE -- A new "wonder peanut" being harvested for the first time in the United States this month beats olive oil in healthful benefits, says a University of Florida peanut breeder.
The SunOleic 97R peanut, developed by Daniel W. Gorbet, a UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences agronomy professor, not only surpasses olive oil in cholesterol-lowering properties, it offers growers better yields than the industry standard, "Florunner" - 10 to 14 percent more peanuts per acre, he says.
And if that isn't enough, it offers manufacturers and retailers a three- to 15-fold increase in product shelf life, Gorbet says.
"That attribute alone translates into millions of dollars of savings on recalls due to outdated product," he said. "Longer shelf life also gives the new peanut an edge in taste. In industry meetings, where many varieties of peanuts are handed out and tested by growers and manufacturers, this is the peanut everyone's eating. Not only does it taste good, it holds its flavor longer."
What gives the peanut its health-promoting qualities is its chemistry, Gorbet says. It has more than 80 percent oleic fatty acid - compared with about 50 percent in regular peanuts. Fatty acids are a major component in all oils, but it is the oleic form - found in largest quantities in olive and canola oils - that scientists believe make them healthy.
"This peanut has even more oleic acid than olive or canola oil. Its health benefits, therefore, could potentially be better," he said.
Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death for women over 40. Yet in a 1995 UF nutrition study, the new peanut's chemistry, in conjunction with a low-fat diet, was shown to help reduce coronary risk factors by lowering blood cholesterol levels in postmenopausal women. That study, conducted by UF/IFAS nutrition professor Rachel Shireman and graduate student Dawn O'Byrne, showed significant reductions in serum cholesterol and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol - the "bad" cholesterol.
As reported in the July 1997 issue of the scientific journal Lipids, the study concluded that substituting high-oleic peanuts as the primary source of monounsaturated fatty acids as part of a low-fat diet may be more advantageous than use of typical vegetable oils.
The SunOleic 97R peanut is the second in a series of health-giving peanuts released by UF/IFAS. The first, SunOleic 95R, released two years ago, had slightly lower oleic content and was more susceptible than SunOleic 97R to tomato spotted wilt virus. More importantly, it didn't have the yield growers wanted. "This one does," Gorbet said.
This year's SunOleic 97R crop will go to commercial growers in 1998, he says. The peanut should appear in products on grocers' shelves next year.
To provide enough seed for growers, this year's crop is being grown in five major peanut-producing states: Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Texas.
Gorbet has spent 27 years working on peanut breeding. He says SunOleic 97R is a significant development - for both the peanut industry and the consumer - because of its chemistry. "It is the direction that breeders will go with peanuts in the future," he said.