One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Is a coconut a nut?
If you asked a botanist this question, the answer would probably be no, a coconut isn’t a true nut: strictly speaking, it’s a one-seeded drupe. In more general terms, however, a coconut can be a fruit, a seed, and a nut (a nut is technically a type of fruit).
A drupe (such as an olive, almond, or apricot) is a fruit with a central stone containing the seed and has three layers: the exocarp, mesocarp, and endocarp. The coconut is the large, greenish, smooth fruit of a tropical palm tree. This visible part is the outer layer, or exocarp. When this is removed (which usually happens before coconuts reach the shops) you’ll see the next layer, which is the brown, fibrous mesocarp, or husk. This fibre (called coir) isn’t edible, but is valuable in other respects: it’s used in potting compost and to make ropes, mats, sacks, etc.
The final layer is the endocarp, which in the coconut is a hard and woody shell: this surrounds the seed. The white edible ‘flesh’ of the coconut is the layer that forms on the inner surface of the shell and is a component of the seed. In botanical terms, this is known as the endosperm.
Let’s return to the question of whether a coconut is a nut or not. As mentioned, a nut is classified by botanists as a type of fruit comprising a shell and a seed (so, loosely speaking, a coconut is both a fruit and a nut). While a coconut has a hard shell and a seed, however, a coconut isn’t considered to be a true nut: true nuts (such as walnuts and pecans) are indehiscent (that is, they don’t split open to release their seeds when ripe). In the case of a coconut, the seed germinates and then sprouts from the end of the shell, which eventually splits (dehisces).
You may also be interested in: Is a banana a fruit or herb?
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