Dr. Kelly Chamberlin, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) biologist in the Wheat, Peanut and Other Field Crops Research Unit in Stillwater, Oklahoma developed the nut, called OLè, together with researchers at Oklahoma State University.
OLé is licensed through the university and the Oklahoma Foundation Seed Stocks - foundation seed was produced last year and certified seed will be produced this year.
"Commercial production will begin next year, in 2016," Chamberlin told BakeryAndSnacks.com.
"We are not partnering with industry, but there is high demand for high-oleic Spanish peanuts from the US industry and we have had inquiries from major US confectionery companies regarding its availability," she added.
Oleic acid is regarded as a beneficial mono-unsaturated fatty acid (MUFA), and high levels in the new peanut mean it has heart healthy credentials for consumers.
Studies suggest benefits for heart health and weight control
Writing in the journal Nutrients in April 2012, Austrian researchers Schwingshackl & Hoffmann note that oleic acid was the principle source of MUFA (the subject of their study) in the diet.
“There is strong evidence that by replacing saturated fatty acids and carbohydrates with MUFA, various cardiovascular risk factors will be significantly improved,” they conclude.
There is also evidence of other benefits. Last June an article by Alves et al. in Obesity reported on a 4-week randomized clinical trial involving males aged 18-50, who followed either: a hypocaloric (low calorie) diet, a hypocaloric diet with conventional peanuts or the same diet with high-oleic peanuts.
“Regular peanut consumption, especially the high-oleic [acid] type, within a hypocaloric diet, increased fat oxidation and reduced body fatness in overweight and obese men,” they wrote.
Moreover, according to the ARS, growers favor the new variety because of its disease resistance and potential for high yields and grades.
New nut resistant to Sclerotina blight that plagues US peanut growers
The new nut is resistant to Sclerotina blight – a fungal disease that can cause yield loss and is especially problematic for growers in Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia and North Carolina.
Soil borne diseases like this can mean yield losses of up to 50%, and the ARS attributes most of the damage to fungi.
OLé has been extensively tested in Oklahoma and Texas - where Spanish peanuts are grown in the US, and Chamberlin said the cultivar is optimized for production in these states.
"Spanish peanuts are grown in the Southwestern part of the US due to growing season restrictions and water shortage," she said.
"They are not grown in the Southeastern of Virginia-Carolina regions," Chambelin added, noting that the cultivar would be suitable for growing elsewhere in the world if conditions were similar to the Southwestern US.
Scientist predicts major impact on US peanut industry
Chamberlin said the OLè variety was important and would “have a lot of impact on the peanut industry as a whole”, while it produces higher peanut yields than OLin, another high oleic acid Spanish cultivar released by ARS and its partners in 2002.
OLin had been fairly successful on its release in Oklahoma and Texas where Spanish peanuts are traditionally produced, Chamberlin explained, but is now in limited production due to serious seed stock contamination which means it is no longer high oleic.
She added that OLé yields were not consistently higher than OLin, but had been "statistically higher" by up to 750lbs/hectare depending on location.
"The advantages of OLé compared to OLin are: pure high-oleic seed and increased resistance to two fungal diseases of peanut - Sclerotinia blight and pod rot complex," Chamberlin told this website.
"Overall yields and grades of OLé and OLin are similar. Production of OLé could save the producer $50-100 in pesticide application per year," she added.
"It also matures in 120 days after planting which is considered 'early' and would save on irrigation costs incurred by producers."
A longer shelf life
Another benefit of high-oleic peanuts is a longer shelf life, as Chamberlin explained.
"Fatty acids that are unstaturated (have double bonds between their carbon atoms) tend to break down over time," she said.
"The double bonds become saturated, giving off free radicals and cause racidity in food products containing them. Catalysts to this process include light and air.
"Oleic acid has only one double bond, linoleic acid has two. Peanuts with normal fatty acid chemistry have an Oleic/Linoleic (O/L) ratio of around 1:1, while some have a ration of 1:1.5 or 1:2, meaning more linoleic acid and thus more double bonds to break down and cause rancidity," Chamberlin added.
"High-oleic peanuts have an O/L ratio of over 10:1. OLé has an O/L ratio averaging 18:1. Studies have shown that peanuts and peanut products that are high-oleic do not go rancid as quickly as normal peanuts and have a shelf life up to 10 times longer."