Coconut is not a nut, but this is a confusing topic. After all, the word “nut” is right there in the name. To make matters worse, the FDA falsely classifies coconut as a tree nut.
Let’s take a look at what a coconut really is, from a botanical (plant) perspective and hear what leading food allergy organizations say about it.
If Coconut is NOT a Nut, then What is It?
Coconuts come from coconut palm trees. The botanical name for these trees is Cocos nucifera. It is a member of the palm family, Arecaceae. (Here is the official USDA classification to back it up. Do you ever wonder if the USDA folks talk to the FDA folks often? They should seriously do lunch.)
From a botanical perspective, the coconut itself is a fibrous single-seeded drupe, also known as a dry drupe. (Not an attractive classification, if you ask me… dry drupe? Sounds gross.)
Drupes are fruits with an outer skin (called an exocarp), an inner flesh (called a mesocarp) and a shell (called a pit, stone or pyrene, depending on the specific fruit we’re referencing) that surrounds a seed (or kernel).
Other drupes are peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries. But you don’t see the FDA wrongly categorizing these, do you?
What do the “Allergy Authorities” say about Coconut?
The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) states:
“Coconut is not a botanical nut; it is classified as a fruit, even though the Food and Drug Administration recognizes coconut as a tree nut. While allergic reactions to coconut have been documented, most people who are allergic to tree nuts can safely eat coconut. If you are allergic to tree nuts, talk to your allergist before adding coconut to your diet.”
Further, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) lists coconut in the list of tree nuts on their website and points out coconut is one of several “uncommon, additional tree nuts that require disclosure by US law”. The statement from the ACAAI, above, is also cited on the FAAN website. In other words… coconut is NOT a nut.
You’ll also find the FDA classifies beechnut, ginkgo, shea nut, butternut, hickory, chinquapin, lychee nut and pili nut right along with coconut as “uncommon” tree nuts. According to current statistics, the risk of allergic reaction to these so-called “nuts” (including coconut) is unknown.
According to Stanford University, there are very few documented true allergic reactions to coconut. In those documents, the individuals were not allergic to any true tree nuts. Further, food allergy researchers report coconut does not cross-react with tree nuts.
The Bottom Line on Coconut as a Food Allergen
Even if you have a true tree nut allergy (like I do), you are very likely able to safely eat coconut (like I do) because coconut is NOT a tree nut (it is a fruit) and research to date finds no cross-reactivity between coconut (the fruit) and tree nuts (actual nuts).
As always, because each of us is a unique individual with a unique biochemistry, seek the advice of your trusted health care provider if you have concerns about consuming coconut for any reason.
Ready to Devour Some Coconut Goodness?
Check out these Chewy Coconut Caramels…
Or whip up a freezer churn full of Vegan Coconut Cream Pie Ice Cream!
Or make a festive Jeweled Coconut Cream Pie for the holidays! Yum!!
Happy, healthy, informed eating!