What Is a Nut? | Wholefood Earth®


Let’s get things straight, as much as we enjoy them, nuts can be a pretty puzzling food group. They are not always exactly what they say they are. In fact, botanically speaking, most of the ‘nuts’ that we generally refer to as such, aren't even nuts at all! 


Here at Wholefood Earth, we want to set the record straight, and bring you all the answers. So, continue reading to discover if your favourite nut is actually a nut, or just a delicious imposter!


What Is Considered a True Nut?


Well firstly, it seems to depend on who you’re asking. If you want to get really technical, the botanical definition of a nut is the singular seed belonging to a dry fruit, contained in a hard shell that doesn’t open to release the seed naturally once it reaches maturity.


Chestnuts, hazelnuts, and acorns are some examples of true nuts that fit this definition.


On the other hand, almonds, pistachios, pecans and even cashews — they’re all just masquerading as nuts! These would in fact, be referred to as ‘drupes.’ A drupe is a seed with a hard, protective shell on the inside, with a fleshy fruit surrounding it on the outside. Although not all drupes have an edible seed. A peach or plum for example, which is also a type of drupe, we just eat for the fruity outer part.


Another lot of fraudsters are peanuts, which are something else altogether! They are actually classed as a legume. This is due to the fact they are an edible seed that grows inside a pod, like beans or peas (that’s where the ‘pea’ part of their name comes from!) Peanuts also grow underground instead of above ground, like true nuts do.


At this point you may be wondering, so why do we still generally refer to all of these as nuts if they are not? Well, as we mentioned earlier, it depends on which definition you are referring too. There is also a culinary definition, which you may be much more familiar with.


What Is a Culinary Nut?


The general and culinary term for nuts is a lot more varied, and less restrictive than the botanical definition. That is why there are some foods with ‘nut’ in their name, like peanuts and coconuts, which are technically not really nuts at all.


A culinary nut is classed as any sort of dry, hard, edible kernel contained in an outer shell, that usually, but not always, has a high fat content. Along with botanical nuts, any of these dry kernels that have a comparable taste, appearance, and culinary role, are all considered to be culinary nuts.


At this point, most people are much more familiar with the culinary term of what a nut is, so that would explain why you generally still see them all classed under the same food group - and we don’t see that changing anytime soon! 


Where Do Nuts Come From?


Nuts are grown all around the world. You usually find them in warm, similar climates with some countries producing the majority of a specific type of nut. For example, Brazil nuts are grown in many countries (including Brazil of course!) but the largest exporter is actually Bolivia. Because climates can differ depending on the country, the time of year a specific nut is harvested can vary from place to place.


Most types of nuts grow on either trees or bushes. Hazelnuts, for example, grow on bushes instead of trees. Whereas the Cashew tree, is a tropical, evergreen tree that grows the cashew fruit which the cashew nut grows out of.


In simple terms, a ‘tree nut’ is, as the name implies, is any nut that comes from a tree. You may hear this term come up most often when discussing food allergies. A person may be allergic specifically to peanuts (which as we have learnt, are not tree nuts but legumes), whereas others may be allergic to the wider range of nuts that grow on trees.


In conclusion, just because it seems most commercially marketed 'nuts' are not technically nuts, does not mean they taste any less delicious in our opinion! Whatever you decide to call them, we hope that this article gave you some more nut knowledge and cleared up some of the confusion surrounding this complicated, yet tasty food group.


All that reading got you feeling peckish? Check out our wide range of nuts

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