What Exactly is a Nut?

What is a Nut?

Inside the Merriam-Webster Dictionary we can find the technical and basic definition of a nut:

(1) A hard-shelled dry fruit or seed with a separable rind or shell and interior kernel.

(2) The kernel of a nut.

In a more mainstream version, the nut is often defined as the dry, one-seeded fruit coming from various trees or bushes. It is edible, but may require cooking to get there in some cases. Nuts also come in a shell, which is usually hard, woody, tough or leathery. The kernel in the middle of these shells is called the meat or the nut.

What is Not a Nut?

Perhaps more importantly, what is not a nut? Strictly speaking, a peanut is not a nut. Nor is a water chestnut, a coconut or a pine nut. Just because it has the word “nut” within its’ name, does not in fact make it a nut.

So what’s the common denominator?

All of these items have shells that enclose an edible and tasty substance. The peanut, sunflower seed, water chestnut, coconut, and pine nut are seeds or they have a hard shell. However, not one of these foods have both of them. Arguably, they are called nuts because they are hard-shelled fruits that will stay fresh for a long time without decaying. But that does not make them a nut. Some have argued that the soybean should be called the soy nut. Admittedly, when dried, toasted, and salted, the soybean has a good taste. Since soy grows in a pod, like a pea, it will never be considered a nut.

Defining the Nut in General

Oxford Companion to Food Defining a Nut

In the best selling book, The Oxford Companion To Food, Alan Davidson writes, “Nuts are impossible to define in a manner which would be compatible with popular usage yet acceptable to Botanists. In this book, popular usage is preferred. So, the groundnut (a legume, also called peanut) and the chufa nut (a tuber) are allowed to shelter under the umbrella word”. Furthermore, he points out that in some languages there isn’t an umbrella word at all.

No matter what labeling rules you choose to follow, one thing that’s for sure is that nuts are nutritious, delicious and a great addition to most diets.