Legumes Vs. Nuts: The Differences


With legumes making up the third largest family of flowering plants at more than 18,000 different species, it’s no wonder that they could be confused with nuts. But what are legumes and what are nuts? And what is the difference between the two?

Legumes are a group of plants that flower and produce multiple seeds that grow in pods. Common legume species include lentils, peas, soybeans, clover, and Alfalfa, to name a few. Nuts, on the other hand, typically only carry a single seed in a hardened shell.

We’ll take a deep dive into all of the differences and similarities found between legumes and nuts. It will include a few astonishing facts that you may not know, such as that peanuts are not nuts; they’re legumes 1. Let’s dive right in.

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What Is A Legume? What Is A Nut?

The Definition Of A Legume

As mentioned initially, a legume is a family of plants that have flowers and produce multiple seeds inside singular pods 2. Species commonly known as legumes include lentils, keys beans such as Lima soy, and more.

Most legume plants flowers with five petals. And these flowers also carry both male and female parts. 

One significant difference between legume plants and others is their ability to restore and enrich nitrogen supplies into the soil. They do this by their unusual relationship with rhizobium, a soil bacteria. These bacteria take nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert into a form the plants can use.

The relationship between legume plants and these bacteria is unique in the plant and animal kingdom. Legumes are often planted in fields to increase the nitrogen left in the soil after the crop finishes. Furthermore, this helps to enrich fields that have previously grown another crop, which might pull nitrogen from the soil instead of enriching it.

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The Definition Of A Nut

Although it might be funny to think of it as talking about a crazy person, we’re talking about food here. In terms of food, the definition of a nut is as follows.

A nut is a fruit that comes from a plant and has an inedible hard shell and casing the seed 3. Generally, this edible seed provides various nutrients, vitamins, minerals, proteins, and other benefits for people to eat. 

What’s The Difference? 

The difference between nuts and legumes is evident when we look at the pod versus the shell. It is also apparent when we look at the number of seeds within that encasement. A legume typically has multiple seeds within the pod. The pod itself is typically audible. On the other hand, a nut typically only has a single seed within the shell, and the shell is typically hard and inedible 4.

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Which Nuts Are Legumes?

One of the most common mistakes is for people to assume a peanut is a nut. It’s a simple and common mistake, given that the word nut is a part of the peanut name. It would make a lot more sense if it were called a pea legume.

However, due to the peanut’s demanding nature, it is often considered a nut due to its consistency. As well, the shell of the peanut is not known to be edible. That is to say, although the shell is not toxic to humans, it is indigestible. It can cause digestive problems due to this indigestible nature 5. One of these issues is finding indigestible peanut shells can stick and build up within the gastrointestinal tract 6.

Why Is A Peanut A Legume?

Peanuts are a funny legume when you get to know them. What is the main difference between peanuts and most nuts is most nuts grow on trees. However, peanuts have more in common with carrots in the sense that peanuts grow under the soil.

When peanut harvest time comes, the peanuts plants find themselves removed, similar to a carrot. And the peanuts would be all covered in the dirt from growing underneath the soil. The hard and indigestible shell of the peanut helps to protect the seeds growing inside.

The facts that peanuts grow underground, do not grow on trees and have multiple seeds within their pod are why they make them a legume over a nut. 

What Is The Difference Between Beans And Nuts?

Most beans typically grow in pods where multiple beans reside 7. In addition, these pods are often edible as in the form of green beans, for example. 

Beans, as mentioned, are a legume. And the difference between legumes and nuts is that legumes grow multiple seeds in an often edible pod. In contrast, nuts grow a single seed in a robust and inedible shell 8.

In addition, many are often found to grow on trees, whereas beans grow on vines and other similar plants.

What Is The Difference Between Seeds And Nuts?

Seeds and nuts have more similarities than legumes and nuts do. Some seeds have an edible shell. Other seeds do not have an edible shell, and yet neither are considered nuts or legumes on their own.

However, one could note that both legumes and nuts technically are seeds. The definition of a seed is a pod of some sort that grows from a plant for that plant to reproduce. Then both legumes and nuts could find consideration as seeds.

Nuts are typically found to grow on trees. Nuts also typically have a hard and inedible shell. Although many seeds also have hard and inedible shells, not all seeds have hard and inedible shells. Yet all nuts have hard and inedible shells.

Many seeds are soft where nuts are not. Nuts are typically very firm compared to seeds. There are, however, many seeds that crossed the boundary in terms of hardness. For example, the sunflower seed could find consideration as it is hard as a nut. However, despite the inedible and hard shell, the sunflower seed is still considered a seed and not considered a nut.

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The Final Say On Legumes Vs. Nuts

Both legumes and nuts carry excellent nutritional value to be used by people as a part of a regular and balanced diet. Both legumes and nuts can be considered as a form of a seed. Both have the intention to help reproduce the species which grew the pod, nut, or seed.

Nuts often grow on trees and also often have inedible and formidable shells, which must break open to reveal the singular nut inside.

Legumes, on the other hand, are a large number of 18,000 or so plants that grow their seeds in the form of a pod that carries multiple seeds inside. These pods are often entirely edible, including their husk.

That’s both legumes and nuts – both have excellent nutritional value. Both should find consideration as part of a regular and balanced diet. And as storing nuts in bulk is simple, nuts make for an excellent long-term stored food group.

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Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. Harvard Health: Plant-based diet: Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes can help get you there[]
  2. Wikipedia: Legume[]
  3. Wikipedia: Nut[]
  4. USDA: Dried Fruits, Nuts and Legumes[]
  5. Feedipedia: Peanut hulls[]
  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Peanut shell colitis[]
  7. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Legumes: Health Benefits and Culinary Approaches to Increase Intake[]
  8. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Health Benefits of Nut Consumption[]

Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on nutrition and food topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

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