Peanuts aren’t nuts, they’re legumes. Which pretty much everyone knows.
Cashews aren’t nuts, they’re seeds. Which pretty much no one knows (except those paying attention last Friday—read here).
All nuttiness aside, botanist make distinctions between nuts and seeds. IMO the distinction is blurry at best (what with all the exceptions and exemptions).
First the definitions:
A nut is a fruit composed of an inedible hard shell and a seed, which is generally edible. In a botanical context “nut” implies that the shell does not open to release the seed. Most seeds come from fruits that naturally free themselves from the shell.
As you can see from this crystal clear definition (did you pick up on the words “generally” and “most”?), nuts contain seeds, but seeds don’t necessarily have nuts wrapped around them. And not all seeds go about happily releasing their shells. Think chia seeds and sesame seeds (even though it would make sense for sesame of all things to open).
So let us (as good researchers) look at the nutrient content:
Nuts are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fat; while seeds are rich in protein, vitamin B, minerals, fat, and dietary fibers.
Which means nutrient content is not helpful in figuring this out.
To recap: we have nuts, seeds, legumes, drupes
Wait, what? Drupes?
Drupes are fruit with an outer fleshy part around a shell (and by “shell” they mean pit) inside. Easy examples are peaches, cherries, and plums. Where it gets relevant to nuts (and by “relevant” I mean confusing) is that walnuts, almonds, and pecans are drupes.
Yes, walnuts which even have the “nut” in their name. Pine nuts (still with the last name “nut”) are seeds. And acorns (which have the vegetable “corn” in their name) are, in fact, nuts.
Brazil nuts (no, not the folks who went to watch the last Olympics) are seeds. Chestnuts (whether or not they’re roasting on an open fire) are nuts.
Legumes arrive in pods and generally have multiple fruit (as in “two peas in a”). Peanuts are legumes. So is carob.
Because this is so confusing, people in the food world have decided to deal with the problem by inventing the term “culinary nut” to refer to all those things that are used like nuts regardless of their botanical heritage.
I’ve decided to handle the problem by continuing to taste test.
The Yum wins.