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What Is the Difference Between a Nut and a Legume?

Peas are a common type of legumes.
Walnuts are true botanical nuts.
Legumes help enrich soil by adding nitrogen.
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  • Originally Written By: C. Harper
  • Revised By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 06 September 2014
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The difference between a nut and a legume is not always immediately obvious. Both legumes and nuts consist of a simple dry fruit carried inside a pod or shell, but upon examining the details, the two groups prove to have significant differences. Botanically speaking, nuts are noted for having only a single seed in the shell, which is not attached, and they can be part of a number of different plant families. Legumes, however, usually have multiple seeds within a casing, which are often attached to its inner wall, and are part of the leguminosae family.

Nuts in Botany

In the strict botanical use of the term, a nut usually has only one seed, or two at most. Additionally, a true nut is always "indehiscent," meaning it does not open on its own. The seed of a true nut is never attached to the ovary wall, but instead is loose or fitted into the nut pod. All of these traits can be seen in chestnuts, hazelnuts, and similar nuts.

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Botanical Categorization of Legumes

The major element that sets legumes apart from nuts is that they are from one particular family of plants, called either the fabaceae or leguminosae family. They also frequently contain multiple seeds; it is not uncommon for a pea pod, for example, to contain half a dozen peas. The majority of legumes are "dehiscent," opening naturally along a seam on two sides; again, the pea pod is an obvious example of this. They often contain seeds that are attached to their pods, rather than simply fitting within them. Legumes are also known for having fruit that is high in protein, and they can replenish nitrogen in soil, making legumes ideal for use in crop rotations.

Confusion Over Peanuts

Looking only at these common distinctions, it can be difficult to determine whether a peanut is a legume or a nut; it contains two seeds, the pod is indehiscent, and the seed is not attached to the ovary wall. Despite its name, a peanut is a legume and not a nut. This is why some people who have allergies to certain nuts can still eat peanuts, and other individuals with peanut allergies can eat true nuts.

Culinary Distinctions

It is important to note, however, that in cooking, the botanical definition of a nut is less important than its culinary definition. In culinary terms, a nut is often considered to be any large seed used in food, which comes from a hard shell. Peanuts certainly fit this description, and chefs often use them in much the same way as botanical nuts. The difference between nuts and legumes is much less important in a kitchen, as long as they are used well within a dish.

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Discuss this Article

anon348698
Post 8

They used to be called goober peas.

anon304708
Post 7

That statement is misleading. Peanuts do not actually grow from within the roots. The peanut develops after the stalk grows to tall to support itself which then bends back to the ground and "replants" itself and then the peanut develops, from which the roots grow. It's very similar to how how most nuts or beans develop. They grow on the stalk and then usually fall to the ground and then roots grow along with the rest of the plant.

anon167408
Post 6

To simply call a peanut a bean is a bit misleading since peanuts grow underground from the roots.

anon119424
Post 4

A nut refers to a particular type of fruit regardless of what family the plant that produces it belongs to whereas the term "legume" refers to a family of plants.

The question, therefore, is not necessarily either/or: i.e., the peanut plant belongs to the legume family of plants and produces a fruit which may or may not be a "nut".

However, while a peanut (the fruit) closely resembles a nut in many respects, it is not a true nut according to the botanical definition. It is, in fact, in botanical terms, a seed and more specifically, as a seed of a legume, it is therefore, a bean.

anon119410
Post 3

Many people like myself are deathly allergic to nuts and can eat peanuts all day long.

Schools and whatnot should steer clear of peanuts and nuts, as the reaction can indeed be severe.

anon63001
Post 2

Yes, except that so many children now seem to be allergic to peanuts, which leads to schools banning all 'nuts' - i.e., hazelnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts - everything 'just in case' someone should be allergic to them. Which I resent as they're such a good source of food for everyone else.

So if the peanut isn't a real nut, maybe we can make an argument that only legume nuts or seeds be banned. Interesting anyway.

anon2283
Post 1

so the peanut is basically a nut that grows on a bean plant. Therefore, it is a legume. It might as well be a duck billed platypus.

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