Is Coconut a Fruit?
Written by Katey Davidson, MScFN, RD, CPT on January 2, 2020 — Medically reviewed by Natalie Olsen, R.D., L.D., ACSM EP-C
Coconuts are notoriously tricky to classify. They’re very sweet and tend to be eaten like fruits, but like nuts, they have a hard outer shell and need to be cracked open.
As such, you may wonder how to categorize them — both biologically and from a culinary standpoint.
This article explains whether a coconut is a fruit and if it’s considered a tree nut allergen.
To understand whether coconuts are fruits or nuts, it’s important to understand the differences between these two categories.
Botanically, fruits are reproductive parts of a plant’s flowers. This includes its ripened ovaries, seeds, and nearby tissues. This definition includes nuts, which are a type of closed seed (1).
However, plants can also be classified by their culinary uses. For example, rhubarb is technically a vegetable but has a sweetness similar to that of a fruit. In contrast, tomatoes are botanically a fruitbut have the mild, unsweet flavor of a vegetable (1).
A fruit is defined as the ripened ovaries, seeds, and nearby tissues of a plant’s flowers. However, many fruits and vegetables are also classified by their culinary uses.
Despite having the word “nut” in its name, a coconut is a fruit — not a nut.
In fact, a coconut falls under a subcategory known as drupes, which are defined as fruits that have an inner flesh and seed surrounded by a hard shell. This includes a variety of fruits, such as peaches, pears, walnuts, and almonds (2Trusted Source).
The seeds in drupes are protected by outer layers known as the endocarp, mesocarp, and exocarp. Meanwhile, nuts do not contain these protective layers. A nut is a hard-shelled fruit that does not open to release a seed (3Trusted Source, 4).
Confusingly, certain types of drupes and nuts can be classified as tree nuts. Technically, a tree nut is any fruit or nut that grows from a tree. Therefore, a coconut is a type of tree nut that falls under the classification of a drupe (2Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).
A coconut is a type of fruit known as a drupe — not a nut. However, they’re technically a type of tree nut.
Tree nut allergies and coconut
The most common tree nut allergies include those to almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts, while allergic reactions to coconuts are quite rare (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 7).
Though coconuts are technically tree nuts, they’re classified as a fruit. As a result, they lack many of the proteins that people with tree nut allergies are sensitive to (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source).
Thus, many people who have tree nut allergies can safely eat coconut without having an allergic reaction (6Trusted Source, 7).
Despite this, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies coconut as a major tree nut allergen (8Trusted Source).
Indeed, some people may have an allergy to coconut and should avoid consuming it. Signs of an allergic reaction include hives, itchiness, stomach pain, shortness of breath, and even anaphylaxis.
Some people with a macadamia nut allergy may also react to coconut, although this is rare (6Trusted Source).
To be safe, speak with a healthcare professional before trying coconut if you have a history of tree nut or nut allergies.
While the FDA classifies coconut as a major tree nut allergen, a coconut allergy is very rare. Also, most people with tree nut allergies can safely consume coconut. Still, it’s best to speak with a healthcare professional if you are concerned.
The bottom line
Coconuts are a delicious, versatile fruit enjoyed all over the world.
Despite its name, coconut is not a nut but a type of fruit known as a drupe.
Most people with tree nut allergies can safely eat coconut and its products without any symptoms of a reaction. Still, you should speak to a healthcare professional before trying coconut if you have an extreme allergy to tree nuts.
Despite being shaped like a seed and having a name that includes the word “nut,” coconut is a delicious fruit.