If you have been wondering, like myself, what classification a coconut falls in to, whether it is a fruit, vegetable or nut, you might be pleasantly surprised. I, for one thing, would have thought it to be a nut, after all, it is called a coconut. But it seems, for very good reasons that we will explain in this article, it is not a true nut but a tree nut. So, what is a coconut?
Botanically a coconut is a fruit that falls under the classification of a fruit drupe. It has a flesh, such as the coconut meat and a seed which is surrounded by a hard shell. Since it grows from a tree it can also be classified as a tree nut as certain drupes that grow from trees are given a tree nut classification.
So, botanically it is a fruit drupe, but technically it also can be thought of as a nut and a seed, which we will discuss in further detail below.
We will discuss the following items in this article.
- What is a Drupe?
- Why is a Coconut a Fruit Drupe?
- Why is a Coconut a Nut?
- Why is a Coconut a Seed?
- Why is a Coconut Not Considered a Vegetable?
If you are interested in why coconut water is pink please check out our article: Why Coconut Water Is Pink? Is It Safe & How To Prevent It Happening
What is a Drupe?
The word drupe originates or comes from the Latin word drupa which has a meaning of overripe olive, and coincidentally an olive also happens to be a drupe.
A drupe is a fruit with a seed that has a hard covering. Think of a peach seed. Take a look at Picture 1 below and see how it compares to a coconut.
Both are drupes because the seed is enclosed in a hard shell.
All drupes, have three definite layers: these layers are the exocarp (outer layer), the mesocarp (middle fleshy layer, or in case of a coconut the husk), and the endocarp layer (hard, woody layer that protects and surrounds the seed).
Examples of drupes are peaches, apricots, olives, plums, cherries and mangoes. Maybe durian could also be considered a drupe? Drupe or not it is still the King of Fruits.
Why is a Coconut a Fruit Drupe?
The coconut is a fruit drupe because it has three layers, a skin or exocarp, a fleshy middle (in this case a husk) also called mesocarp and a hard woody shell that surrounds the seed called the endocarp.
Picture 1 Why A Coconut Is a Fruit Drupe
As you can see in the picture above the coconut is similar to the way a fruit, such as a peach is setup. However, the flesh is actually called the husk in a coconut and the white meat is the part of the coconut you eat, which is called the endosperm.
The seed of the coconut is actually the large, hard-shelled part, containing the water and meat. A tiny embryo is attached to the end of the shell, and this will eventually sprout and grow into a new coconut tree.
The outer husk allows the coconut to float in water and make its travel from island to island. The meat of the coconut along with the reserve of water inside the coconut gives the seed plenty of nutrition and food to grow since these seeds are made for long journeys.
Those 3 plugs you see at the end of a coconut that you usually use a sharp knife, or in my case a screwdriver, to pierce into and drink the coconut water are actually germination pores. One of the germination pores which is fairly soft and easily penetrated allows the coconut shoot to break through as it grows. See Picture 2 below.
Picture 2: How a Coconut Seed Sprouts
Why is a Coconut a Nut?
Coconut is a tree nut because it is a one-seeded fruit that grows on a tree. A nut is classified by botanists as a type of fruit made up of a shell and a seed (so, in a loose way, a coconut is a nut). The coconut has a hard shell and a seed inside the hard shell.
The FDA classifies the coconut as a tree nut, however, the coconut is not a true nut in the sense that it germinates and then sprouts from the end of the hard shell. This hardshell then splits open as the coconut shoot grows. A true nut such as a walnut or brazil nut will not split open when ripe to release its seeds. The hard shell of a true nut, such as walnut, needs to decay and decompose before the seed is released and can then sprout.
This is why there is so much confusion around the coconut being a nut. So loosely speaking it is a tree nut. Did you know what a Peanut is? Is it a Fruit, Vegetable or Nut? You might find the answer interesting in this article: Are Peanuts Fruit, Vegetable Or Nut?
Why is a Coconut a Seed?
A coconut also can be correctly called a seed, as a seed is an embryonic plant or ‘baby plant’ enclosed in a protective covering, which is the hard shell in the case of a coconut.
At the end of a coconut are three pores or eyes, named germination pores, through which the sprout emerges out of its hard shell.
Coconut is also a seed because it is the reproductive part of the coconut tree. The sprout emerges from the coconut.
Under the right conditions, a coconut should germinate in about three months, but if the conditions are not ideal it could take up to six months. At germination of the coconut, the roots will push out through the coconut husk, and the very first shoot, which looks like a sharp green spear, will begin to emerge from the germination pore that is at the end of the nut that was attached to the coconut tree.
From seed, to sprout to coconut palms, young coconut palms tend to grow rapidly, with their multiple leaves developing into a trunk in around five years. Once the coconut tree has reached that stage, flower clusters will begin forming within the axil of each leaf. Only a few weeks after the coconut begins flowering, many immature coconut fruits will begin to drop from the cluster. Those coconut fruits that remain will grow rapidly, and they will reach mature size in about six months and then become fully ripe in about nine months.
It is interesting to note that during the first year of growth, the young coconut plant absorbs the nutrients that are stored in the nut. Later, however, it will need fertilizer just like any other plant.
If you are interested in growing Dragon Fruits from Seeds please check out our post: Will Dragon Fruit Seeds Grow? – How To Video Guide
Why is a Coconut Not Considered a Vegetable?
Well, this is not such a clear-cut question to answer since the definition of a vegetable is “parts of plants that can be and are consumed by humans or animals as a food source”. And the original meaning of vegetable is still used today and is often applied collectively to plants to refer to all edible plant matter, which includes the leaves, stems, flowers, fruits, roots, and seeds.
So, going by the definition above a coconut could be considered a vegetable. However, generally speaking, a fruit is the better definition of a coconut as a fruit is a seed-bearing formation which grows and matures from the ovary of a flowering plant. Also, take a look at this article: Is Broccoli a Fruit, Vegetable or Flower?
This is in harmony with the more precise and accurate up-to-date definition of vegetable which is “any part of a plant which is consumed for food that is not a seed or fruit but including mature fruits that can be eaten as part of a main meal”
This might seem a little odd at first glance, but when you happen to get to know that zucchini and pumpkin, tomatoes and cucumber fall into the fruit category you can understand why the modern definition of a vegetable also includes “including mature fruits that can be eaten as part of the main meal.” Since coconuts are generally not eaten as part of the main meal, although again you could argue that coconut milk and meat can be used in main dishes such as curries, they are not considered a vegetable.
So, in conclusion, a coconut is a fruit, a nut and a seed but according to the modern definition of a vegetable can not be considered a vegetable.
 Library of Congress: Is a coconut a fruit, nut or seed?
 FDA: Questions and Answers Regarding Food Allergens Check #25
 College of Tropical Agriculture: Coconut Palms from Seed
 Wikipedia: Vegetable
 Handbook of Vegetables and Vegetable Processing
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