Is Coconut a Tree Nut?

There’s a lot of confusion around the difference between peanuts and tree nuts. They may look similar, but they’re very different! Peanuts are legumes (edible seeds that grow in pods) and, you guessed it, tree nuts are hard-shelled nuts that grow on trees. We cover this topic in a previous blog post! 

There’s also a lot of confusion around the almighty coconut 🥥. It’s pretty tricky to classify—it’s sweet and eats like a fruit, but it has a hard outer shell that needs to be cracked open like a nut. It also has the word nut in it. 

So—is it a nut? A fruit? A seed? Can you be allergic? Read on to find out!

What is a coconut? 

If we’re getting botanical, the coconut is actually a fibrous one-seeded dry drupe. A drupe is a fruit with a hard stony outer layer enclosing the seed. The term comes from the word drupa, meaning overripe olive. A coconut, along with all drupes, have three layers: the exocarp (outer layer), the mesocarp (fleshy middle layer), and the endocarp (hard, wood-like layer that surrounds the seed). 

Are coconuts tree nuts?

Is coconut considered a tree nut? After all, “nut” is part of the word. Technically speaking, a nut is defined as a one-seeded fruit. So with that loose definition, a coconut can also be classified as a nut. However, coconuts lack many of the proteins that people with tree nut allergies are sensitive to, so many people who have tree nut allergies can safely eat coconut without having an allergic reaction (including our CEO!). For a complete list of every food the FDA considers a tree nut (including coconut), check out #25 on this list. 

In 2010, the Journal of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology published a study that digs into the relationship between sesame, coconut, and nut allergies in children. Researchers found that children with a peanut or tree nut allergy were not more likely to be allergic to coconut. 

How many people are allergic to coconut? 

According to a 2017 study, reports of immunoglobulin E (IgE)-mediated coconut allergy are rare. However, despite the low prevalence of coconut allergy, reactions can be serious—several reported cases have involved anaphylaxis. 

It’s important to note that since the FDA DOES classify coconut as a tree nut allergen, it’s required to be labeled as such on all FDA-regulated packaged food products. For information on food allergy labeling laws, check out our post on that topic here.

What to do if you’re worried about a possible coconut allergy.

It’s important to talk to your doctor/allergist if you have any concerns about a potential coconut allergy. They will be able to advise you on the best course of action. 

Importantly, while the FDA treats coconut as a tree nut for labeling purposes, don’t assume restaurants treat coconuts as tree nuts. If you’re worried you have a coconut allergy, it’s a good idea to call out that ingredient specifically when dining out, and take the same precautionary measures you would with any other food allergy. 

Interesting facts about coconuts.

We’ll leave you with some fun facts about coconuts you may not know—these factoids were definitely new information to us!

– Coconuts are often called the “Tree of Life” because every bit of the coconut can be used. Coconut trees can produce drinks, fiber, food, fuel, utensils, musical instruments, and more! 

– The oldest reference to coconut appears to come from an Egyptian traveler named Cosmas from the 5th century AD. Scholars believe his reference to the “nut of India” was the coconut. 

– It takes 11-12 months for a coconut to mature. 

– Coconut is a perennial plant that bears fruit continuously 12-13 times each year, for up to 60–70 years, yielding between 30 and 75 coconuts every year. 

– When intravenous (IV) solution was short in supply during WWII and the Vietnam War, doctors used coconut water as a substitute. 

– The main coconut producing countries are the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific Islands.

Do you or someone you know have a coconut allergy? Please share your story in the comments below if so!

– Meg & the Allergy Amulet Team 

This article was written by the Allergy Amulet team and reviewed by Allergy Amulet advisors Dr. Jordan Scott and Dr. John Lee. Coconut facts are courtesy of the Library of Congress and this journal article.

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