Going Nuts Over Peanuts
ACU students judge products for farmers

Staff Writer,
Abilene Reporter-News
Sept. 14, 2000

Learning to hold their noses closed while tasting peanut paste was just part of the training that technicians for the Southwest Peanut Lab received Wednesday in Abilene.

The technicians, many of whom are Abilene Christian University agribusiness students, were preparing for the upcoming Texas peanut harvest. This fall, the technicians will sometimes sample up to 18 batches of peanuts a day in an effort to judge the quality and food safety of the legumes.

Dr. Foy Mills, an associate professor of agriculture and environment at ACU, heads the peanut research effort in a lab set up at ACU, which gets funding for the project from a food industry consulting firm. Mills started the peanut-testing project about eight years ago when he moved to Abilene from Georgia, the nation's largest peanut-producing state (Texas is the second largest).

Mills was formerly an extension specialist for peanut and cotton economics at the University of Georgia extension service.

The information Mills and his technicians collect through their sampling process at ACU "is used to help us get a better understanding of the differences that exist among the different peanut-growing regions in the Southwest," he said.

The data can help peanut shellers and food manufacturers decide such things as how to roast and blend individual peanut crops. The peanut lab also has worked with Texas A&M University to help farmers make their products more desirable for use by food producers and marketers.

The process of judging the sensory aspects of peanuts, such as taste and aroma, is somewhat akin to tasting wine - the testers smell the product, roll it around in their mouths to taste it, then spit it out. When tasting, a technician must hold his nose to prevent his sense of smell from interfering with the work of his taste buds. The testers don't crunch on whole peanuts, but partake of a peanut paste made from roasted peanuts ground up in a food processor.

The paste is not really very tasty, said tester Carrie Peter, a second-year peanut technician and an ACU sophomore from El Campo who is majoring in agribusiness. Peanut butter tastes better because it has added sweeteners and the consistency is much smoother than the grainy peanut paste, she explained.

"I crave Jif peanut butter out of a jar because it tastes so good compared to what we have to taste."

Being part-time peanut testers doesn't seem to have made the lab technicians swear off eating peanut products forever.

"Halfway through the peanut season, I get tired of them (peanuts), but after it's over and things calm down, eating peanuts is OK," said peanut tester Michelle Baldwin, a senior ACU agribusiness major from Thornton.

Before becoming a peanut tester three years ago, she never realized peanuts required so much research and study.

"I kind of just took it for granted they came in a Planter's jar," she said with a laugh.

Copyright ©2000, Abilene Reporter-News / Texnews / E.W. Scripps Publications


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