Sometimes the words we use in everyday life and their respective meanings don’t line up. For example, most of our favorite nuts aren’t scientifically nuts and, while a strawberry isn’t a berry, a banana is. Here’s what’s going on.
Nuts About Nuts
Botanical nuts are hard-shelled dry fruit with an interior seed, where the shell is “indehiscent,” meaning it doesn’t open to release the seed. (Culinary nuts are anything commonly referred to as a nut, so some are not always actually true nuts.)
In fact, most things we call nuts aren’t nuts. Buy a packet of mixed nuts looking for nuts, and you’re likely to be quite disappointed. For example, none of these so-called “nuts” are nuts:
- Peanuts. They grow in underground pods and are thus legumes, like peas and lentils. Whatever the warning on the back of the pack says, a packet of peanuts never “contains nuts.”
- Cashew nuts. These are the seeds of the cashew apple (which can also be eaten and, in India, are used to make an alcoholic beverage called feni).
- Walnuts. Like cashew nuts, walnuts are seeds, not nuts.
- Pistachio nuts. Similarly, these are the seeds of the desert-growing pistachio tree.
- Almonds. Likewise, these are the seeds of the almond tree.
- Pine nuts. These “nuts” are the various seeds of different trees from the pine family.
- Coconuts, although less likely to be lumped into the nut category, do still have “nut” in the name. Coconuts are a category of fruit called a drupe, where the outer fleshy part surrounds a hard-shelled seed.
So, in that packet of mixed nuts, you’ll find a lot of seeds, but not many nuts. Some true nuts that you might be familiar with are:
- Hazelnuts, which live up to their name
- Sweet chestnuts (but not horse chestnuts)
Berry Difficult to Tell
Botanical berries are the fleshy fruit produced from the ovary of a single flower. (Culinarily, we consider pretty much any small fruit to be a berry).
It turns out that all the best berries aren’t berries. A botanist wouldn’t call any of the following a berry:
- Strawberries. Despite the name, these berries are an aggregate fruit. The “seeds” on the outside are the ovaries of the flower and have a seed inside.
- Raspberries. The best of all not-berries, raspberries are also an aggregate fruit and are composed of multiple small drupes (a similar category of fruit to the coconut).
- Blackberries. Likewise, these are also an aggregate fruit made up of drupes.
Unlike with nuts, quite a few fruits that we call berries are true berries. The following are all botanical berries and culinary berries (so you can make them into jam):
- Red currants
- Black currants
However, things get weird when you look at fruits that are botanically berries but not commonly referred to as such. These fruit are the ones that will make you scratch your head. Some of the fruit in this category are:
- Grapes (Though why aren’t they called berries? They’re about the same size as strawberries.)
- Kiwi fruit
- Watermelons (Seriously!)
- Bananas (Again, seriously!)
- Tomatoes (Though don’t try and make crumble out of them.)
There you have it! An incomplete list of the nuts that aren’t nuts and the berries that aren’t berries.