Nuts and Seeds
Nut-allergic people are often told that they can safely eat seeds and vice versa – but what actually is the difference? Cressida Boyd dons her botanical hat and attempts to elucidate…
What is a seed?
A seed is the reproductive core of a plant’s fruit – the means that plants use to reproduce themselves. Of all the plant parts that humans eat, seeds are the most important for human health, providing us with oils, starch, protein, minerals and vitamins. Seeds are tiny powerhouses of energy, concentrated to encourage new plant life.
A seed (also called a kernel) is a tiny embryonic plant – the end product of the process of reproduction in seed plants. A seed contains three parts: an embryo, a supply of nutrients and a seed coat. The embryo contains the roots and shoot. The seed nutrient store contains the energy the seed needs to grow, and the seed coat protects the seed from drying out or injury. This covering can be paper thin and fused to the seed coat, as in a cereal, or hard and thick, as in a coconut. Seeds, however, are enormously varied and, to further muddy the waters, the terms we use, in common parlance, to describe seeds and their component parts and their botanical classification have little in common.
Edible seeds can be split into three categories:
Nut / seed allergies
Nuts / seeds
Even within similar groups there is little allergic homogeneity. For example, within the ‘drupe’ classification, cashew nuts and almonds tend to precipitate reactions in a
relatively large number of
people whereas very few people are allergic to coconuts.
If you suspect that you have a serious allergy you will normally be tested for peanuts and for some ‘tree nuts’– walnuts and cashews are the most common tree nuts to cause allergic reactions.
One can only hope that accurate allergen testing becomes more accessible so that specific allergen-containing nuts and seeds can be better identified – and that treatments such as peanut immunotherapy soon become available to nut/seed-allergy sufferers.
First published in 2009
If you found this article interesting, you will find many more articles on peanut and tree-nut allergy here, and reports of research into the conditions here.