The short answer: A coconut is a fruit and it’s a TREE nut but it’s not a TRUE nut. Oh, and it can also be considered a seed.
|Is a coconut a…|
Confused? You’re not alone! But don’t worry, we’ll explain it all in English before we get a little science-y. Read on!
What makes something a fruit, anyway?
The classifications for plant-based foods are generally straightforward, but sometimes the lines can get a little blurry – exhibit A, the coconut.
What makes something a fruit? While there are a lot of definitions out there, here’s a way to think of it that makes the most sense to us: if it grew from a seed and the seed is still present in the mature structure, it’s likely a fruit.
For example – apples grow from seeds, which are in the core of the apple. The same is true for peaches (the pit contains the seed), avocados, and coconuts, among many other types of fruit.
A coconut’s seed is found within the hard layer called the endocarp, which houses the coconut seed and flesh. If you were to soak a coconut in water, the seed would sprout and you could grow a coconut palm tree (in ideal conditions).
On the other hand, vegetables like carrots and potatoes don’t contain the seed from which they were created – you’d have to go buy carrot or potato seeds to plant them since they don’t contain seeds like fruit does.
…and what makes a nut a nut?
Coconut has the word nut in it, which is why you might think of it as a nut and not a fruit. True nuts like hazelnuts and walnuts contain an edible kernel within a hard, tough nutshell. Many other foods that we consider nuts in a culinary sense aren’t nuts at all, though!
Almonds, cashews, and pistachios are a few examples – they’re not technically nuts but are classified as drupes, which are fleshy tree fruit that contains a seed covered in a shell. Coconuts fall under this category and are considered drupes.
So coconut isn’t a true nut…but it is considered a tree nut by the United States Food and Drug Administration (USDA) because it is a “one-seeded fruit”, the loose definition of a nut, and it grows on a tree. However, some people with tree nut allergies can safely eat coconut – it all depends on the person.
What a coconut is and what it isn’t
Nuts, seeds, fruit, drupes, tree nuts, and true nuts…confused yet? I know my head is spinning just a little bit.
Let’s summarize (as best we can) what coconut can be considered…and what it isn’t.
Coconut is considered a fruit because it contains the seed from which it germinated and grew into a mature coconut. Contrary to a somewhat common myth, fruit does not have to be sweet – take the avocado as an example.
While the other definitions can get a bit muddy, one thing we can say the coconut is not is a vegetable. Vegetables are the edible portions of plants but don’t contain the seed from which they grew – such as lettuce (leaf of the plant), celery (root of the plant), and potatoes (tubers).
Not to make things more confusing, but many foods we consider to be vegetables in a culinary sense are technically fruits in a botanical sense. For example, pumpkins are considered vegetables but are technically considered fruits botanically.
We haven’t covered the definition of a seed yet, but coconuts can also be considered seeds! A seed is the reproductive part of a plant, meaning if you were to plant it, water it, and support its needs, it would grow into another plant.
Coconuts contain a seed that can germinate and grow into another coconut tree, which is why it can also be considered a seed.
Nut (true and tree)
Technically coconuts are classified as drupes (definition: fleshy tree fruit that contains a seed that is covered in a shell) along with many other things we think of as nuts, such as almonds and pistachios. Coconuts are also considered tree nuts, but not true nuts. Coconuts are classified as tree nuts because they are a one-seeded fruit (nut) that grows on a tree (tree nut).
A culinary nut is considered an edible fruit or seed that typically has a high-fat content, so coconut can also fall under this category along with cashews, almonds, and other things considered nuts in a culinary sense (but not a botanical sense).
Coconut is considered a drupe, which is a one-seeded fruit with a hard covering surrounding the seed. So yes, coconut is a fruit!
Coconuts are classified as tree nuts but aren’t considered true nuts like walnuts and hazelnuts.
Nope, a coconut is considered a true fruit because it develops from a ripened seed (or ovary in botanical terms). A false fruit is one that was derived from the ovary as well as other parts of the plant.