Coconuts are delicious tropical fruits that are packed full of nutrients. They also happen to be very versatile.
In fact, they can be eaten raw, cooked, juiced, blended into smoothies, baked into bread, added to ice cream, and even turned into oil.
What does that make coconuts? Is coconut a fruit or vegetable?
This article will cover how coconuts are classified, their properties, and their health benefits.
- Related article: How to Distinguish Fruit vs Vegetable
Derived from 16th century Spanish and Portuguese, “coconut” originates from the word “coco” meaning head or skull. That’s because the coconut bears resemblance to human facial features with its indentations.
The coconut tree is a member of the palm family known botanically as the Aracaceae. The coconut is a popular plant product with varying parts to be used for a variety of purposes.
Is Coconut a Fruit or a Vegetable?
The coconut is a fruit that is botanically classified as a one-seeded drupe. Drupes are one of nine subgroups of fruits. A drupe (or stone fruit) is characterized by a very fleshy part covered by a hardened outer shell or surface, with a seed inside it.
A drupe fruit contains three distinct layers:
- The exocarp, which is the hard shell.
- The mesocarp, which is the fleshy inner layer
- The endocarp, is the hard stony layer that protects the seed.
Other drupes include almonds, cherries, mangos, peaches, and plums.
Fruits are always classified as the reproductive part of the flowers of a plant and may include ripened ovaries, seeds, and surrounding tissue. Nuts are also classified as a fruit subgroup because they are a kind of closed seed.
Coconuts distinguish themselves from other fruits because they contain quite a bit of water. Unripe coconuts are harvested for drinking, but as a coconut ripens, its water content will diminish.
Is Coconut a Nut?
Many assume that the coconut is a nut due to the “nut” part of its name, but it’s actually a different reason.
The coconut can be considered a nut because it fits the broader definition of nuts as a one-seeded fruit. Because of this broader definition, the coconut has a double identity as both a fruit and a nut.
However, there is a distinction to be made here. An acorn, which is an example of a true nut, will not open to release its seed at maturity. The seeds are released when the outer hard shell naturally decays or is eaten by an animal. That’s unlike the coconut, which forms its own sprout.
The coconut does share some similarities with nuts. For example, it is a tree nut, but it lacks some of the proteins that those suffering from nut allergies react to. Many people that may have allergies to almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, or cashews, may be able to eat coconut without reacting.
The FDA still classifies coconut as an important tree nut allergen though. So if you suffer from other tree nut allergies, it’s best to consult your medical care practitioner before eating coconut.
Is Coconut a Seed?
Yes, a coconut is a seed because it is the reproductive part of a flowering plant. In the coconut’s case, it’s the reproductive part of a coconut tree. This seed is a baby plantlet.
Closely observe a coconut, and you will notice 3 dark or black pores that are known as “eyes.” One eye, after the seed germinates, will host the sprout, so the coconut is considered to be a seed.
The white fleshy endosperm we eat also nourishes the seed so that the plant can begin life.
Coconut Health Benefits
Coconut offers several potential health benefits that make it worth adding to your cuisine and diet.
1. Coconuts Can Improve Overall Health Thanks to Important Nutrients
Coconuts contain fat, some protein, important minerals, and some lesser amounts of B vitamins. The minerals contained are vital to overall health and bodily functions.
Coconuts contain a considerable amount of manganese, that is important for the metabolization of carbohydrates, considered essential to bone health.
Copper and iron contribute to red blood cell formation and selenium is a notable antioxidant for contrasting free radical damage to cells.
100 grams of unsweetened raw, dried coconut will provide:
- 3 grams of protein
- 15 grams of carbs
- 9 grams of fiber
- 354 calories
- 33.5 grams of fat
- 65% of the Daily Value of manganese
- 48% DV of copper
- 18% DV of Selenium
- 9% DV of Phosphorous
- 14% DV of Iron
- 8% DV of potassium
An interesting benefit of coconut fats is that the fat they contain are medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). The body will absorb these directly from the small intestine and use them very quickly for energy.
2. Coconuts May Fight Bacterial Strains
Some research has indicated that coconut oil may help block the growth of certain bacterial strains.
It has been used in studies to block the spread of Staphylococcus aureus, which is responsible for some staph infections. Another study used coconut oil for brushing teeth and showed it to reduce Streptococcus mutans.
Coconut oils were also shown in a test tube study to be effective when used against Staphylococcus epidermidis, as well as Escherichia coli, both foodborne infections.
3. Coconuts May Aid in Blood Sugar Management
Coconut helps control blood sugar levels because coconut meat is low in carbohydrats, and high in fat and fiber.
4. Coconuts May Protect Cells from Damage
Coconut is packed with antioxidants to protect cells from oxidative free radical damage. Antioxidants come from the coconut flesh that contain phenolic compounds.
Research has demonstrated that these compounds neutralize free radicals to aid in the prevention of chronic disease.
How to Add Coconut to Your Diet
There are many coconut products that you can use to include coconuts in your daily diet.
Shaved or flaked coconut can be added to numerous dishes. It adds flavor and texture to stews, curries, rice recipes, and even shrimp when breaded.
This is easily my favorite way of getting in some of that tropical coconut flavor into my food. I will add it to rice and many things I cook.
Some commercial brands will sweeten it by adding sugar, so check to see if the brand you are buying has added sugar if you don’t want your food super sweet.
Coconut is also a delightful and tasty addition to baked goods, from cakes, to cookies, to pies, and add a touch of sweetness and moisture. Raw coconut can also be sprinkled on oatmeal, pudding, and yogurt.
Coconut flour can be substituted when baking for those with a wheat intolerance. It is a gluten-free option for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
I will also use coconut flour to cupcakes and other baked goods because it adds a natural sweetness to the food.
Coconut oil can also be used as a substitute for other types of cooking oils for baking, roasting, or sautéing.
Coconut milk and coconut water are great ways to drink the many vitamins and minerals that this fresh fruit provides. The milk is a good alternative if you have a lactose intolerance and have an allergic reaction to dairy.
I love coconut milk and water. I love that natural sweetness they have. The milk and water doesn’t completely replace regular milk and water, but it’s still good to drink regularly as a treat.
Is Coconut a Fruit or Vegetable? Final Thoughts
The coconut is classified as a fruit and a nut, because of its botanical properties as a seed.
Coconut is an excellent source of healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. It provides many health benefits, but should not be consumed in large quantities.
For other foods that you’re wondering whether they are fruit or vegetable, check these articles out: