Most people consider peanuts to be a nut, but you might be surprised to learn that although it has the word ‘nut’ in its name, it is not botanically considered a true nut or tree nut. It may be obvious that its not a tree nut as the peanut develops underground and not on trees, but why is it not also called a true nut. Read on to find out, but first, what exactly is a peanut?
A peanut is botanically considered a legume with the seed being the edible part. Nuts are generally considered a dry fruit in botanical terms with a single seed encased in a hard shell and a protective husk. Peanuts, however, are an exception, they are classified as a legume, and are also known as groundnut, goober nuts, earth nuts and monkey nuts.
So why is a peanut considered a legume? Peanuts are considered Legumes because they grow edible seeds in pods. This is similar to soybeans and peas and other legumes. However, unlike most legumes, the pod of the peanut is not edible and is usually discarded. The pod serves a purpose in that it protects the growing peanut while it is underground.
So, if the peanut is botanically a legume, you could rightly call it a vegetable. However, you might also be surprised that although its a legume, it fits the fruit category more than the vegetable category.
Are Peanuts Vegetables?
Peanuts are botanically considered a legume. So based on this definition it could be thought of as a vegetable. However the peanut legume is considered more a fruit than a vegetable.
Why Are Peanuts Considered A Fruit?
Since fruits are usually soft and sweet, you may immediately think that a peanut could not possibly be a fruit. However, there are many fruits that are not sweet and are wrongly called vegetables, such as zucchini and pumpkins. Its all to do with the botanical definition of a fruit.
By botanical definition, fruits are the plant tissue which contains the seeds. The ovary of the flower matures into either a dry or fleshy fruit containing the seeds. What we wrongly call the “nut” parts of a peanut are really the seeds, and the part you peel off is the inedible pericarp or fruit. This is why peanuts can also be called peanut fruit and a leguminous fruit-bearing plant.
What is really interesting, is that if the flowers are above the ground, how can the peanuts or seeds enclosed in the shell be below the ground?
The seeds of the peanut plant are below the ground because of a feature known as geocarpy. Geocarpy is where a short stalk at the base of the ovary grows into a thin stalk or threadlike structure after fertilization, called a ‘peg’. The ‘peg’ will grow down and into the ground which allows the fruit to grow underground.
The hard shell that you discard and throw away when you eat your peanuts raw are not only the fruit part, but also protect the seeds while growing underground.
So, peanuts are A legume type of fruit. The hard shell is the fruit or pod containing from 2 to 4 seeds called ‘peanuts’.
Thinking about growing your own peanuts? You need to take a look at this article: How To Grow Peanuts where we show you how to easily and successfully grow your own peanuts.
Why Are Peanuts Not True Nuts
What botanists categorize as a nut is different to what we as consumers consider to be a nut. If it comes in a shell and is dry, hard, round small and crunchy then we just naturally think of it as a nut. However, the difference comes in when we look at how botanists classify nuts. They look at the whole plant, not just the crunchy part we eat.
In botany terms, nuts are a dry fruit that have a hard shell, a single seed, and a protective husk. Think of hazelnuts and walnuts which fit the true definition of a nut. Peanuts, however, usually have two seeds and easily break open. They are technically a legume because they grow in a pod. True nuts also grow on trees, whereas peanuts grow below the ground.
For these reasons, the humble peanut cannot be considered a true or tree nut, but rather a legume.
This raises another question. Is the peanut a seed?
Is A Peanut A Nut Or A Seed?
A nut simply is a seed contained in a hard shell. When the seed matures, this hard shell will not naturally open to release the seed. Thats why you need to break open the hard shell, often with some force, to get to the nut.
However, a seed consists of three parts:
- embryo – where the new plant forms
- endosperm – a food store
- seed coat – a protective covering.
So a peanut is also considered a seed, but not considered a nut in botanical terms.
Difference Between Fruit and Nut
In botany terms a nut is considered the same as a fruit. The outer shell of the nut is the fruit since the definition of a fruit is the mature ovary of any flower, plant, or tree, which contains seeds. Since the nut is actually a seed, the outer layer, which is the shell is considered to be the fruit.
Since a peanut is actually a seed encased within a pod or shell, the pod being the fruit, a peanut can be considered a fruit.
You might be interested in taking a look at this article: How To Grow Peanuts in Florida for more specific growing tips for the Florida climate and landscape.
Three Reasons For Peanut Being Fruit
- The peanut plant is self-pollinating and has flowers which grow from the base of the plant. The fertilized flower will develop an embryo at the tip of a tube-like structure called a peg. This peg will eventually grow down and into the soil. Once it gets to a specified depth, the embryo will start to develop and the tip of the peg will develop a seedpod. This pod will contain peanuts, which are really seeds.
- Fruit is the mature ovary of any flower, plant, or tree, which contains seeds. The peanuts being the seeds and the husk or shell being the fruit.
- The seeds inside the shell can be used to grow peanut plants. These seeds are the reproductive part of the plant. If you put the pod into the soil, after a few weeks it will germinate.
These are three brief reasons why peanuts can be considered a fruit.
The peanut is actually the seed of a legume fruit and not a nut. Although many consider it a nut in the culinary world, in the botany world it is definitely the seed of a legume fruit of which the husk is the pod.
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