A Focus On Peanuts, Tree Nuts, And Pine Nuts, To Not Go Nuts

We usually assume that all nuts—a generic term referring to hard-shelled pods containing both the fruit and the seed of a plant—conflate into a single macro-category, without due distinctions. Nevertheless, a preliminary botanical specification differentiates tree nuts from peanuts.

First of all, peanuts—also called groundnuts—are not nuts at all, but legumes, which are edible seeds enclosed in the pods of terrestrial plants and whose family belong beans, lentils, and peas. Meanwhile, tree nuts—which include walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, etc.—are always produced on the heights of a tree.

Furthermore, not all tree nuts are actually nuts in a strictly biological sense, but drupes (more commonly referred to as stone fruits,) that is fruits with an outer shell and a fleshy part surrounding a hard seed. (Think of cherries, plums, peaches, olives, etc. They all are your typical example of stone fruits / drupes.)

The most widespread drupes considered false tree nuts feature almonds, pistachios, pecans, and cashews.

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Both peanuts and tree nuts (either true or stone fruits) are categorized into a macro-group of plants named angiosperms.

Angiosperms—also known as ‘flowering plants’—are the most diverse groups of land plants, including over 300,000 species. Etymologically, ‘angiosperm’ means a plant that produces seeds within an enclosure; in other words, a fruiting plant. The term comes from the Greek words ‘angeion’ (case) and ‘sperma’ (seed.)

Lastly, pine nuts are just seeds surrounded by a hard shell except the outer meaty part of stone fruits. The shells include edible seeds of certain species of conifers (gymnosperms, which means ‘naked seeds’ in Greek), trees evolutionarily separated from flowering plants (angiosperms) to which all other nuts belong.

Gymnosperms are a more tightened group of seed-producing plants (about 1,000 species), among which are conifers. The term ‘gymnosperm’ comes from the composite word in Greek, ‘gymnos’ = naked and ‘sperma’ = seed. The name is based on the unenclosed condition of their seeds, in contrast with the enclosed seeds of angiosperms within an ovary.

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