Hazelnut is the only edible nut

Hazelnut is the only edible nut in a botanical meaning

Pawel Malczewski
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Summary

There are two definitions of a nut: botanical and culinary. We usually use the word “nut” in the culinary sense and not in the botanical sense.

The botanical definition is not only confused with the culinary definition but it is also often incorrect.I would like to clarify the two definitions here. There is also a definition for ‘tree nuts‘ which include those nuts in the culinary sense that grow on trees.

Explanation

Botanical definition of Nuts

Botanical definitions vary depending on the source, making it even more confusing.

However, most of the botanical dictionaries agree with the following characteristics:
A nut is a dry fruit composed of a hard/woody covering (pericarp – a part of a fruit formed from the wall of the ripened ovary), with one seed inside, although it never opens to release its seed even after completing full maturity. Botanical nuts are inedible by humans except for the hazelnut.

In the botanical sense, walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, coconut, cashews and pecans are not called nuts but “dry drupes”.

A drupe is a fruit where the hard shell with a seed inside is surrounded by the fleshy part of the fruit. Drupes are also stone fruit such as peaches, cherries, plums, etc., although these fruit have a fleshy rather than dry outside layer which distinguishes them from nuts.

Culinary definition of Nuts

Nuts in the culinary sense refer to any seeds with nut-like characteristics – fruit composed of large oily kernels (but not always e.g. chestnuts contain mostly carbohydrates) (1)Chestnut – nutrition information. United States Department of Agriculture. USDA. Available here. enclosed in hard covering.

The definition or criteria can be sometimes harder to understand than simply becoming familiar with the list of culinary nuts as shown in the table below. (2)Steel JB, Wilson JB. Is there only one kind of edible nut? New Zealand Journal of Botany. Volume 50, Issue 1, 2012. pages 71-76. Available here.

Common name Fruit type
AlmondDrupe
Brazil nutCapsule
Cashew Drupe
Chinese water chestnutCorn
CoconutDrupe
HazelnutNut
MacadamiaFollicle
PeanutLegume (bean)
Pecan Drupe
Pine nutGymnosperm. A naked seed enclosed in a protective shell.
PistachioDrupe
Sweet chestnutFollicle
WalnutDrupe

References   [ + ]

1. Chestnut – nutrition information. United States Department of Agriculture. USDA. Available here.
2. Steel JB, Wilson JB. Is there only one kind of edible nut? New Zealand Journal of Botany. Volume 50, Issue 1, 2012. pages 71-76. Available here.

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