Is Coconut a Tree Nut?

With a hard outer shell, grows on trees and has the word “nut” in its name, it seems logical that the coconut would be considered a tree nut. In loose terms a coconut could be considered a nut, since it is a one-seeded fruit. However, according to the Library of Congress, coconut is a drupe, or a fleshy fruit with thin skin and a central stone containing the seed, e.g., a plum, cherry, almond, or olive. From a botanical perspective, true nuts never open to release their seeds at maturity on their own, rather the seed is released when the walls of the nut decay or are digested by an animal. On the other hand, a baby coconut plant emerges from one of the pores located at one end of the coconut.

Coconut is an allergen for some people, though not nearly as common as true tree nuts such as almonds, cashews and walnuts. Cross reactivity between nuts and coconut is not very common. Of all the tree nuts, cross reactivity between coconut and hazelnuts and between coconut and walnuts are most common according to Very Well Health. As a result of fewer cross reactivity occurrences, coconut is not often restricted from people's diets when they have nut allergies according to Food Allergy Research and Education FARE. Whereas people that are allergic to one kind of tree nut, such as almonds or pistachios, are far more likely to be allergic to other tree nuts and are generally advised to avoid all tree nuts.

While many people don't consider coconut a tree nut from an allergen perspective, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has since 2006. Food products containing coconut must list "coconut" under the allergen statement ("contains") section of the ingredient label. There is a petition started by the Coconut Coalition of the Americas (CCA) for the FDA to reconsider this classification, but it has not changed to date.

Because our mission is making products that avoid top major allergens and are vegan (because everyone should be able to enjoy tasty treats!), we have discontinued using the oat powder we used in our Vocoa Hot Cocoa last year. The oat powder we used contained coconut oil and plant based enzymes that allowed the oat powder to dissolve and mix smoothly in hot water. We have not used the oat powder since we moved to our dedicated facility.

In addition to not being able to say we are “nut-free” if we used coconut, we looked in our own personal kitchen and around the grocery stores we frequent and observed just how prevalent coconut is in non-dairy products available in the marketplace today. For those that are sensitive to coconut, we want to provide an alternative that is both free from dairy and free from coconut.

Over the past several months in preparation for hot cocoa season, we have diligently sought a replacement oat powder that does not contain coconut. So far we have been unsuccessful in locating a suitable replacement that would provide the same consistency. Supply chain issues have further reduced our options. We are literally searching the globe and will continue. In the meantime, we plan to offer a hot cocoa mix using the same cocoa powder and vegan sugar as last year…just bring your own plant based milk!