What is a Nut?

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What is a Nut?


In Botanical terms, a nut is a hard-shelled fruit, which does not open to release its seed. There are relatively few true nuts because dehiscent fruit (where the shell does split open) is far more common; true nuts include chestnuts, pecans and hazelnuts. Not all nuts are closely related to each other on the family tree of plants though – indehiscence has evolved multiple times as a strategy for seed dispersal.

However, the word nut is used to refer to a huge range of hard fruits and seeds, from legumes (e.g. peanuts) to drupes (e.g. coconuts and cashews).

True Nuts

  • Pecan
  • Hazelnut
  • Yellow Walnut
  • Beech
  • Acorn
  • Hornbeam
  • Alder
  • Palm Nut
  • Kola Nut
  • Sweet Chestnut

Culinary Nuts that Are not True Nuts

  • Peanuts (Legume)
  • Almond (seed)
  • Pistachio (fruit known as drupes)
  • Cashew (fruit known as drupes)
  • Horse Chestnut (seed)
  • Pine nut (seed)
  • Brazil Nut (capsule)
  • Coconuts (fruit known as drupes)
  • Walnut (fruit known as drupes)
  • Macadamia nut (fruit)

Ok, so peanuts are not nuts. Those little bags of airline nuts have been lying to you all this time when they say “may contain nuts”. But if someone tells you they have a nut allergy, there’s a good chance they’re allergic to peanuts. The term nut allergy is used to describe both peanut allergies (also known as groundnut allergy, it is of course, an allergy to a legume) and tree nut allergies. Tree nut allergy sufferers may react to almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios or even pine nuts! So it’s always good to clarify.

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