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True Nuts

Nuts are defined as a simple, dry fruit with one seed (very occasionally two) in which the seed case wall becomes very hard at maturity. True nuts include pecan, sweet chestnut, beech, acorns, hale, hornbeam and alder.


Peanuts aren't nuts. They are a type of pea which grows underground. They are native to South America but now widely cultivated, notably in Georgia, in the United States. They are also known as groundnuts, earthnuts, goobers, pinders, Manila nuts and monkey nuts. Some people are so severely allergic to peanuts that eating a tiny amount can be fatal; but these people may not be allergic to true nuts. So the health warning on a packet of peanuts ("may contain nuts") is, strictly speaking, untrue.

Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts aren't nuts. Like horse chestnuts, they are seeds contained in a capsule or pod, which splits apart. True nuts don't split - the sped and the fruit are one and the same. Brazil nuts mostly come from Bolivia (in Brazil, they are called castanhas, or chestnuts). They grow at the very top of enormously tall trees, in round wooden capsules packed with between eight and two dozen seeds. When the pods fall the seeds are released.

A Brazil nut is 65 per cent oil. In a packet of muesli full of seeds, nuts and cereal, Brazil nuts always end up on top if you shake the packet; this is called the Brazil nut effect.


Coconuts aren't nuts. They are drupes (from the Greek dryppa, meaning "tree- ripened"). Drupes are fruit with a fleshy outer coating enclosing a hard shell containing a seed: almonds, walnuts, olives, dates and coffee. The word "coconut" comes from the Spanish and Portuguese word coco, which means "monkey face". Explorers found a resemblance to a monkey's face in the three round indented markings found at the base of the coconut.

Coconuts contain coconut water, not coconut milk. The milk is made by grating the flesh into the water and straining it. Fresh coconut water is an excellent hangover cure. It is completely sterile, full of vitamins and minerals and is isotonic (it has the same balance of salts as human blood). You could survive on a desert island eating and thinking only coconut.


Walnuts aren't nuts. They are also drupes. Their name in Old English, walhnutu, meant "foreign nut", from wealh, "foreign" (also the root for Wales). This was because they were introduced from Gaul and needed to be distinguished from the native hazelnut.

Because walnuts resemble the brain, they were believed in medieval times to be able to cure headaches. More recently, Nasa has used pulverised walnut shells as thermal insulation in the nose cones of its rockets.

Cashew nuts

Cashews aren't nuts. They are the seeds of the cashew drupe, a member of the poison-ivy family. The cashew's seed lining contains a powerful irritant called anacanlic acid (which is why they are never served or sold in their skins).

The botanical name Anacardium refers to the shape of the fruit, which looks like an inverted heart (ana "upwards" + kardion "heart").

Unlike Brazil nuts, cashews really do come from Brazil.

The Portuguese planted them in Goa in the late 1500s and from there they spread through Asia and Africa.

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