You probably don’t think much about the botanical classification of foods you eat until someone points out fun facts like “jalapenos are actually a fruit” or “peanuts aren’t actually a nut”.
While you don’t really need to know the ins and outs of botany to enjoy these foods, it can be interesting to learn how foods might fit into other categories that you weren’t aware of. Such is the case with nuts, which are technically types of fruits!
All nuts are technically fruits, though they have very different nutritional compositions than the fruit most people think of like berries and apples. In this article, we’ll explain why nuts are fruits (except for the nut that isn’t really a nut), explain what “true nuts” are, and more!
Are all nuts fruits?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), nuts are technically fruits – that means all nuts (but not peanuts because they’re not actually a nut – we’ll explain more soon!). How is this so?
First, let’s look at what classifies things as fruit. According to Merriam-Webster, “anything that grows on a plant and is the means by which that plant gets its seeds out into the world is a fruit”. That means that fruit contains seeds, and nuts are considered dry, single-seeded fruits that have a high oil content.
That means that nuts are really the seeds of the plant (fruit) it comes from. For instance, if you planted an almond, it could theoretically grow into an almond tree under the right circumstances.
Another definition of a nut is “a fruit consisting of a hard or tough nutshell protecting a kernel which is usually edible” – which makes sense if you visualize cracking an almond kernel from its shell!
Difference between nuts and other fruit
You probably don’t think of nuts as fruit, and you’re not alone – most people don’t! When you think of fruit, you most likely think of bananas, apples, berries, and other “regular” types of fruit.
Nuts are generally high in fat and protein, whereas fruit doesn’t tend to be rich in fat or protein. One of the main exceptions is the coconut, which is a high-fat fruit.
Let’s compare the nutrition facts for a few nuts and more common fruits:
|Calories||Total Fat||Total carbs||Dietary fiber||Sugars||Protein|
|Small apple||78||0.3 g||21 g||3.6 g||15 g||0.4 g|
|Medium banana||105||0.4 g||27 g||3.1 g||14 g||1.3 g|
|Almonds (23 nuts/1 oz.)||164||14.1 g||6.1 g||3.5 g||1.2 g||6 g|
|Brazil nuts (6 nuts/1 oz.)||186||19 g||3.5 g||2.1 g||0.7 g||4.1 g|
As you can see, nuts are higher in calories, fat, and protein than the fruits you likely associate with the word “fruit”.
Examples of nuts that aren’t “true” nuts
True nuts are considered hard-shelled pods that contain both the fruit and seed of the plant, but the fruit does not open to release the seed to the world. Some examples of true nuts include chestnuts, hazelnuts, and acorns.
What does that make the rest of the things we think of as nuts? While they can be classified as nuts, many of them are technically drupes, which are a type of fruit where an outer fleshy part surrounds a shell (or pit) with a seed inside. Examples of drupes include almonds, coconuts, and cashews.
There seems to be some debate about whether pecans and walnuts are drupes or true nuts. The USDA calls them true nuts, but other sources cite them as drupes – it really does get confusing!
Does it all really matter? If you’re not a botanist, then no. Whether it’s a true nut or a drupe, nuts tend to have similar nutritional profiles, so it’s not a huge deal to know whether they are technically true nuts or not.
Nuts and allergies
One last note on the topic of nuts: peanuts and tree nuts are both common allergens. Peanuts aren’t actually nuts (they’re a type of legume, so actually a vegetable).
Tree nuts include several nuts, such as:
- Brazil nuts
- Hazelnuts (filberts)
- Macadamia nuts
- Pine nuts
- Coconuts (only listed as a tree nut for labeling purposes; most people with tree nut allergies can eat coconut)
It’s possible to be allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, but they are classified as separate allergens.
While nuts are considered fruits, it doesn’t go the other way around. Apples and other “typical” fruits aren’t considered nuts.
Almonds are nuts, which are a type of fruit – but they aren’t considered a true nut, but rather a drupe.