CornNuts are not nuts. But they are corn: Kernels are soaked in water and then toasted, giving the snack its puffiness and its crunchy bite (which reminded its inventor, Albert Holloway, of nuts). The kernels are soaked because they shrink during the harvesting and cleaning process, and rehydration returns them to their original size.
Invented in 1936 in Oakland, California, and originally called Brown Jug Toasted Corn (they were intended to be served as tavern snacks), CornNuts were made from sweet corn until Holloway and his sons learned of Cusco corn. This breed from Peru produces one-inch kernels—the largest known corn kernels, according to Arnel R. Hallauer, author of Specialty Corns. After a decade of research, the CornNuts company was able to develop a Cusco hybrid that would grow well in California, and it debuted its larger-kernel snack in 1964. Planters acquired CornNuts in the 1990s.