Is coconut or not a nut?
Is coconut or not a nut?
Coconut is often wrongly categorized as an allergen within the nuts category. This common confusion has several origins, including its name, appearance, and American allergen labeling legislation.
Nuts are born on trees, so in English they are called “tree nuts” or simply “nuts”. This name “nut” is one of the reasons behind the confusion and distrust in the consumption of certain foods by individuals allergic to nuts. But not everything that has “nut” in the name can be considered a nut, for example: “butternut” (butter squash), “nutmeg” (nutmeg) and “coconut” (coconut).
In cooking, nuts that are dry and rich in fat (oil fruits) are commonly considered nuts, although they are not always so from a botanical point of view. For this reason, peanuts are often confused with nuts, when in reality it is a legume (from the pea family). Coconut is also rich in fat and its dry seed has a literally hard shell, but that cannot classify it as a tree nut from a botanical point of view either.
In October 2006, the FDA began to identify coconut as a tree nut on its list of notifiable allergens. This framework has caused confusion between consumers and allergy sufferers, as well as contestations from both the scientific community and the associations of producers of coconut-based products. (1)
Coconut is the seed of a drupaceous fruit that grows from a palm tree, which botanically is not considered a tree, but a plant that is genetically closer to ferns. (1)
Any food is potentially an allergen, with over 170 foods documented to have caused allergic reactions. However, only about 8 food groups are responsible for 90% of allergies, and the list of what are considered the main allergens varies from country to country, and can go up to about 14 main allergens, as is the case in EU countries. European.
Bearing this in mind, coconut, like any other food, is also a potential allergen. However, coconut allergy is rare and not directly associated with nut allergy.(3) Most documented reactions have occurred in people who were not allergic to nuts. (1)
Laboratory studies have identified seed storage proteins as the main allergen in coconut, having described some similarity between them and the proteins of some nuts such as walnuts and hazelnuts. However, in both clinical trials and clinical practice, no evidence was found of increased coconut sensitization or allergy in nut-allergic patients. (two)
A common concern of nut-allergic patients is whether they can safely consume coconut-derived products. Due to the reasons given above there is often the confusion that if a patient is allergic to nuts, they are at a high risk of having allergic reactions to coconut. This can lead to overly restrictive diets and limited access to safe food alternatives. (3)
Although rare, coconut allergy can cause serious reactions, including anaphylaxis, so if you suspect a coconut allergy, you should consult your doctor for diagnosis to know whether or not to avoid coconut. (3)
At Fidu, we follow European legislation regarding allergens, so we exclude from our products and recipes that we publish all 14 main allergens of mandatory declaration on labeling, which represent more than 90% of cases of food allergies. As coconut is not listed in European legislation as an allergen, given the low prevalence of this allergy, and is also a frequently used alternative to replace other allergenic ingredients, we may use coconut or its derivatives in some of the recipes we publish, each person should individually adapt the recipe to their dietary needs.
(1) FARE (2017). Your Food Allergy Field Guide. Food Allergy Research & Education.
(2) Stutius, LM, et al. (2010). Characterizing the Relationship between Sesame, Coconut, and Nut Allergy in Children. Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, vol. 21, no. 8, Dec. 2010, p. 1114–18.
(3) Anagnostou, K. (2017). Coconut Allergy Revisited. Children, vol. 4, no. 10, 2017, p. 85.