Fact Checked

What Is the Difference between a Nut and a Legume?

C. Harper
C. Harper

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

Peas are a common type of legumes.
Peas are a common type of legumes.

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.

Botanical Categorization of Legumes

Walnuts are true botanical nuts.
Walnuts are true botanical nuts.

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

Legumes help enrich soil by adding nitrogen.
Legumes help enrich soil by adding nitrogen.

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

Despite its name, the peanut is considered a legume.
Despite its name, the peanut is considered a legume.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a nut?

A nut is a fruit with a hard outer shell and a single edible kernel inside. These kernels often contain protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Nuts are usually eaten as a snack, added to salads, or used to make nut butter and milk. 

What is a legume?

A legume is a plant that produces a seed pod, usually containing several peas or beans. Legumes are a rich source of protein, high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Popular legumes include lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and peanuts. They are often used to make soups, stews, and salads or blended into spreads and dips.

Are nuts and legumes the same thing?

No, nuts and legumes are not the same. While both are edible fruits, nuts are encased in a hard outer shell with a single edible kernel. Legumes, on the other hand, have a seed pod containing several peas or beans. While legumes are used to make soups, stews, and salads, nuts are usually eaten as a snack.

Are nuts and legumes healthy?

Yes, both nuts and legumes can be considered healthy foods. Eating various nuts and legumes can provide your body with essential nutrients and help support a healthy diet.

What are some examples of nuts and legumes?

For nuts, we have almonds, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, and pistachios. And for legumes, we have lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and peanuts. Other types of nuts and legumes can also be found, depending on the region and climate.

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Discussion Comments


They used to be called goober peas.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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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    • Peas are a common type of legumes.
      By: sevenk
      Peas are a common type of legumes.
    • Walnuts are true botanical nuts.
      By: dinostock
      Walnuts are true botanical nuts.
    • Legumes help enrich soil by adding nitrogen.
      By: Joe Gough
      Legumes help enrich soil by adding nitrogen.
    • Despite its name, the peanut is considered a legume.
      By: pilotl39
      Despite its name, the peanut is considered a legume.