We get this question A LOT: is a peanut a nut?
Friends, the peanut is not a nut, it is a legume: a family of edible seeds that grow in plant pods—think peas, beans, and lentils. In a nutshell, a peanut is closer to a pea than a nut. 😉
By definition, a nut is a fruit composed of a hard shell and a seed, which is typically edible—think chestnuts, hazelnuts, and walnuts. Most “nuts” aren’t nuts at all, but are actually drupes. But what’s a drupe?! Drupes are fruits with fleshy layers surrounding shells or pits that carry seeds—think peaches, almonds, cashews, cherries, coconuts, and pistachios. Importantly, if someone says they have a tree nut allergy, this distinction disappears, as the six most common tree nut allergies—walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews, and pistachios—span both nuts and drupes:
All nuts notably grow on trees, unlike peanuts, which grow underground. The peanut plant is also unusual in that it produces flowers above ground, but fruits below—a rare process known as geocarpy. When the plant stands at about a foot, purple tentacle-like vines—called peduncles or pegs—emerge from the plants faded flowers and sink beneath the soil to form peanuts. 🥜 Neat, right?
Native to South America, peanuts arrived in the U.S. by way of Africa along the Atlantic Slave Trade. They thrive in subtropical climates. Today, most peanuts—about half—are grown in Georgia, where its warm temperatures and sandy soils provide an ideal climate for the crop.
Peanuts aren’t also their only name. If you’re traveling outside of the U.S., you may hear the peanut referred to as the groundnut. Other names include goober pea, ground pea, ground nut, earth nut, pindar nut, and ground bean. Most of these variants—once common in the 1800s—are no longer in circulation, with the exception of goober, which still lingers in the south. If you have a peanut allergy and see goober pie on a menu, steer clear!
For culinary and nutritional purposes, the peanut is generally still classified as a nut—the culinary definition is broader for nut, and includes drupes, seeds, and botanical nuts. These competing definitions have undoubtedly aided some of the confusion. Finally, it’s worth noting that nutmeg, water chestnut, and butternut squash, while bearing nut in their names, are not nuts and can generally be tolerated by individuals allergic to tree nuts (this author included 😀).
Are you allergic to peanuts? Have you heard them called by any other funny name? Drop a comment below if so!
— Abi and the Allergy Amulet Team