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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Why do they put peanuts on a bar?

In more up-market pubs you often see bowls of peanuts placed at regular intervals along the bar. Many people wrongly assume that these are for eating.

Accompany me, for a moment, as I drift off to a Chinese restaurant: at the end of the meal (and often at different points during the meal) a bowl of warm, slightly lemony water is brought to the table. cue much joking along the lines of "this soup's really watery" etc. Some ignorant or uninitiated diners do actually assume that it's another course, an accompaniment to something already on the table, or a palate cleanser such as the role sorbet occupies in high western cuisine.

Exactly the same thing happens with peanuts on a pub's bar, although the mistake of actually eating them is one that is made far more often. If you do take up a handful of peanuts from the bowl in front of you and throw them into your mouth you are actually committing a gross social faux pas, and if you look carefully you will see other, in-the-know patrons laughing at you from behind their pint glasses.

So what are they actually for?
It is well known that people in pubs, particularly men, perform only a cursory handwash after spending a penny in the smallest room, and properly drying the hands after this is almost unthinkable. The peanuts on any bar are salted, and salt is an excellent absorber of water. Dipping the fingers into a bowl of peanuts and having a bit of a rummage allows the salt on the peanuts to absorb excess water, reducing the lubricating effect it has on fingers, decreasing the likelihood of glass slippage and therefore droppage and spillage.

But why are the peanuts necessary?
If this was the case, I hear you think, surely a bowl of salt would be all that was necessary? Why the peanuts?

There are a few of reasons why the bowls include peanuts:

  1. Aesthetic reasons: In much the same way that a bowl of pot pourri is much more attractive than a bowl with deodorant sprayed in it, a bowl of peanuts usually compliments a pub's bar in terms of colour and texture much better than a pillar of salt would, especially when damp.
  2. Cost & efficiency:
    1. The peanuts are coated with the salt, which allows the bowl to be more full whilst actually including a minimum of salt.
    2. Usage time: The salt absorbs water from the fingers, but can only hold so much. A salted peanut allows water to be absorbed by the salt and then passed through to the encased peanut, which stores the water and dries out the salt. Salt by itself would quickly become saturated and need replacing. Also, the shape of the peanuts means that there is a certain amount of airflow through the mixture at all times, which allows excess moisture to evaporate from the surface as well as being stored inside the peanut.
  3. Disposal: The salt sticks to the peanuts. When a given bowl of the salt/peanut mixture has reached the end of its operational life, it is much easier to dispose of and then replace. A bowl of wet salt is far more fiddly to deal with. Also, if a spillage is to occur, salt that is attached to peanuts is far easier to clean up than a bowl full of salt all over the carpet.

A final point
You may have heard the assertion that studies have revealed traces of an average of twenty-seven different people's urine in a bowl of bar peanuts. This gives a reason beyond simply avoiding a display of social ignorance as to why you shouldn't eat the peanuts from a bowl in a pub.