What’s the most Southern thing you can think of? Somewhere on that list, probably in the top 10, is Coke with peanuts. As in: You put peanuts in the Coca-Cola bottle before you drink. A lot of adults in the South have fond memories of this combo; many of them learned it from their parents or grandparents and it’s a sort of comfort food to them. Coke with peanuts is one of those unique Southern things found nowhere else in the United States.
Now, this concoction technically works with plastic bottles, but it started with the original glass bottles (and we think it’s still the best way to consume this combo). The trick is to take a good drink, then pour a small package of salted peanuts right into the ice-cold Coke bottle. The result is a salty, sweet mix that makes for a perfect snack.
The folks over at Southern Living decided to introduce this treat to the next generation of Southerners and though they had mixed success converting kids to a love of Coke with peanuts, the overall result is adorable. You definitely want to watch the whole video to see their reactions.
Food historian Rick McDaniel looked into how this Southern tradition got started. There’s no written record to verify when the two products were first combined, but the individual packs of shelled peanuts from Planters, Lance, and Tom’s were sold at country stores and gas stations beginning in the 1920s. Coca-cola in glass bottles was already sold at the same stores, so it’s likely during that time frame.
McDaniel found that the combo’s geographic influence was confined to a certain swath of the South, saying, “Folks from Texas to the Carolinas partake in the sweet, salty goodness, while the custom seems to peter out in Virginia and disappears entirely by Maryland.”
As to the why behind the combo, McDaniel heard three variations on a hands-free theory. First, people doing some kind of manual labor may not have had a place to wash up when they stopped at the gas station; pouring the peanuts into the Coke bottle kept them clean.
The second and third versions of the theory were more about multi-tasking. You could eat and drink with one hand while driving a stick shift with the other (which is what you might be doing right after stopping at the filling station), or you could keep one hand free to keep working while you had your snack.
No one knows who the first Southerner to start the Coke and peanuts tradition was, but it’s good to know that hopefully there will be a few left who want to keep this little bit of Southern culture going.