Issue No. 65: Virginia Diner Peanuts

Yeah, I’ll say it. Virginia Diner peanuts are my favorite peanut. They may just be my favorite nut period. Their flavor is unmatched for two reasons. One, they start with great peanuts. And two, they fry them.

Arriving in Great Peanut Country.

You enter Wakefield, Virginia on Highway 460E. It’s a four-lane road where the vistas alternate between crowded trees, kudzu covered abandoned houses, high fields of corn, low fields of peanuts. When you pass the fields the air is warm. When you hit a stand of trees the temperature changes, you hit a patch of cool, dark air. A few roadside shops do business in heavy machinery. The only other vehicles seem to be trucks hauling lumber. There are some old motels. There are billboards advertising a festival called “Pigs, peanuts and pines.” You are in peanut country and you’re about to arrive at Virginia Diner.

Virginia Diner buys super large extra whole Virginia peanuts, the top 2% of the crop. They’re different than America’s most common nut, the runner, which is smaller, rounder, shaped more like a pea than the long, lozenge-shaped Virginia nut. (Planters uses runners, as does Snickers and most peanut butter manufacturers.) Their size and density contribute to the terrific crunch.

Virginia Diner peanuts are fried.

Growing up in Michigan I knew of peanuts two ways: roasted in the shell or out of the shell. Virginia Diner, however, has always fried them. The diner originally made them in small batches in their french fryers right on the kitchen line. When they got too much business they built a small fry facility out back. They didn’t automate, they just bought more french fryers. (This makes me wonder why more restaurants don’t offer freshly fried peanuts?)

You won’t be able to see any evidence of frying in your nut. The shelled peanuts look clean and blond in the tin. So what’s the difference between a fried peanut and a roasted peanut? To me the main difference is texture. To some extent you can think of the difference between potatoes French fried and roasted. French fries are crispier, with a textural pop. Fried peanuts have that same crispy, satisfying crunch. And unlike French fries, fried peanuts keep their texture in the tin. Weeks after opening—a length of time I can honestly say I’ve only experienced once, and by sheer force of will—they still have a zip to them that roasted nuts lack.

I know it’s not fashionable, health-wise, to be promoting fried foods. And I’m certainly not in the business of dictating diets. That said, I did some research. A serving of Planter’s roasted peanuts has 14 grams of fat versus Virginia Diner’s 15 grams. Not much of a difference in calories. But the difference in flavor is vast.

Virginia Diner blanches their peanuts before frying.

It’s a step few peanut fryers take. It adds time and expense, but it also stops the peanut from absorbing much oil in the fryer. Eat a handful of Virginia Diner peanuts and your hands are remarkably oil-free. They don’t leave any grease in your mouth. As anyone who’s fried food at home knows it’s a bit of a technical feat to fry to the correct texture with no greasiness.