What Are Coconuts: Seeds, Fruits, Or Nuts?

A coconut is all of these: a seed, a fruit and a nut! Coconut is a seed because it is the reproductive part of the tree, coconut is a fruit because it is a fibrous one-seeded drupe and coconut is a nut because a loose definition of a nut is nothing but a one-seeded ‘fruit’.

There are some questions that have common sense answers we learn over time. For example, ask any adult the answer of 2 times 2, and there is very little chance that they will say anything besides 4. However, ask most people the difference between Great Britain, Britain and England, and they could probably tell you some dissimilarities, although I wouldn’t be too sure that they were answering correctly.

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Then, there are those questions that seem pretty easy at first, but become increasingly difficult as one starts to think about the details and possibilities. For instance, do you know whether coconuts are fruits, nuts or seeds?

Coconut

To begin with, the word ‘coconut’ is derived from a 16th century Portuguese and Spanish word ‘coco’, which means ‘skull’ or ‘head’. It was so named due to the three indentations’ uncanny resemblance to the facial features of a human. Coconut trees are a member of the Arecaceae family, more commonly known as the palm family. What makes coconuts such great edible items is that the various parts can be used for different purposes, in addition to their ubiquitous availability in tropical and sub-tropical regions across the world.

Composition of Coconuts

A coconut is different from any other fruit, as it contains a significant amount of ‘water’ inside it; this is why when a coconut is not allowed to ripen, it can be be harvested for drinking. Upon ripening, it still contains some water, albeit a lesser amount.

coconuts

Credits: Portogas D Ace/Shutterstock

As a coconut continues to ripen, layers of endosperm deposit on the insides of the walls of the coconut, making up the edible ‘flesh’ of coconuts. Hence, a coconut has many uses and applications throughout its various stages of development, which is why it is present in daily diets all over the world, in one form or another.

Seed, Fruit or Nut?

Some would say that a coconut is basically a nut, as the name ‘coconut’ might suggest, while others would claim that it is a fruit or a seed. But what is the right answer here?

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Quite interestingly, a coconut is all of these: a seed, a fruit and a nut! Confused? Let me explain…

In strictly botanical terms, a coconut is a fibrous one-seeded drupe; in other words, a dry drupe. Now, you might be thinking – what in the world is a drupe? A drupe is basically a fruit in which a fleshy part encompasses the hardened outer part, which in turn houses a seed inside. A drupe has three layers: the exocarp (the outermost ‘hardened’ layer), the mesocarp (the ‘fleshy’ middle part) and the endocarp (the hard layer surrounding the seed). Other examples of drupes are mangos, almonds, peaches, plums and cherries.

However, a coconut can also be called a seed, as a seed is the reproductive part of a flowering plant. A seed essentially contains a ‘baby plant’ inside it. When you look at one end of a coconut, you can see three black pores (also called “eyes”). It is through one of these pores that the sprout emerges. So, by definition, a coconut also qualifies as a seed.

Finally, it is also a nut, given that a loose definition of a nut is nothing but a one-seeded ‘fruit’. This definition imparts a dual identity to coconuts, allowing them to be classified as fruits and nuts.

So, once and for all, a coconut can be a nut, a seed and a fruit, all at the same time. Now that we’ve resolved the identity crisis of our beloved coconut, it’s time to grab one and pop a piece in your mouth as a delicious, healthy reward!

References

  1. Everyday Mysteries
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