tree nuts listMost people know that tree nuts come in a wide range of varieties. But what distinguishes a tree nut from any other nut? And what foods classify as nuts anyway? In this guide, you’ll find a complete list of tree nuts as well as visual references, descriptions, and popular uses of some of the most common tree nuts. 

What Are Tree Nuts

First of all, as you might have guessed, all tree nuts can be found on trees. However, what distinguishes three nuts from other tree-growing foods is that the outermost shell is very hard, and the meat inside is also hard.

Botanically speaking, only a few foods considered nuts fit the technical definition of nuts: a dry indehiscent one-seeded fruit with a woody pericarp. Think of acorns, chestnuts, or hazelnuts. 

Some culinary nuts fall into the less-than-familiar category of drupes – a fruit with fleshy tissues surrounding a pit that holds a seed inside. While most drupes are eaten in the form of fruit – apricots, cherries, peaches, plums, etc. – almonds and pistachios are an exception.

Other ‘nuts’ are botanically defined as seeds, such as cashews and pine nuts. Other culinary nuts fall into other obscure botanical categories, like capsules and kernels, and of course, there’s also the ubiquitous peanut, which is actually a legume.

Regardless of how they’re categorized botanically, all nuts are indeed seeds in the sense that they’re reproductive structures and can sprout and grow into a new plant. 

Tree Nuts List

Some of the most common types of tree nuts include:

  • Almonds
  • Brazil nuts
  • Cashews
  • Hazelnuts (filberts)
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Pecans
  • Pine nuts (pinon, pignolias)
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts

The list of tree nuts above is not comprehensive. Other less-known tree nuts include:

  • Bush nut
  • Ginko nut
  • Hickory nut
  • Lichee nut
  • Nangai nut
  • Shea nut 

Note: coconut and nutmeg are not nuts. A coconut is a seed of a fruit, and nutmeg is obtained from the seeds of a tropical tree.

Nuts – List of Tree Nuts

Each and every nut has its own origin and a place where it’s currently grown, unique nutritional value, and popular culinary uses. 

Almonds

Origin: Southwestern Asia
Main producers: United States (California), Spain, and Iran
Profile: almonds are the most popular tree nuts. There are hundreds of varieties of almonds, each with its own unique combination of flavor intensity, texture, shape, and color. However, only a few are widely available. The most common are California almonds – oval, medium brown with wrinkled skin, nutty flavor, and a crunchy texture. Marcona almonds cultivated in Spain are very popular in the Mediterranean region – oval, light brown with a rich sweet flavor and buttery texture. Mission almonds from Texas are small rounded dark brownish red, deeply wrinkled with a strong almond flavor.
Characteristics: hard nuts
Popular uses: almonds are sold in several forms – whole, blanched, sliced, slivered, ground into almond flour or almond butter, blended with water into almond milk, or pressed to create almond oil. They’re also great for white/cream-colored recipes when the skin is removed. Marzipan is perhaps the most popular dessert made with almonds, but Turrón is also a favorite.
Substitute: Brazil nuts, hazelnuts

almonds

Brazil Nuts

Origin: Amazonian forests of Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and Venezuela
Main producers: Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru
Profile: Brazil nuts are large (2″/5 cm long) and wedge-shaped, with a smooth surface and light creamy color. They have a thin papery brown skin that is difficult to remove, so if you need a “white” nut for a recipe, Brazil nuts may not be the best choice. Their flavor is sweet and nutty, and their texture is dry when chewed, resembling macadamia nuts.
Characteristics: hard nuts
Popular uses: whole as a snack
Substitute: almonds

brazil nuts

Cashews

Origin: Brazil
Main producers: Vietnam, India, and Ivory Coast
Profile: cashews are kidney-shaped nuts (1″/2.5 cm long) with a smooth surface and creamy white color. They’re always sold pre-shelled because cashew shells have a lining filled with a toxic fluid that can cause rashes and burns. Cashews have a mild, sweet flavor and a soft, creamy texture.
Characteristics: soft nuts
Popular uses: cashews are sold whole, cut in half, ground into cashew butter, or blended into cashew milk. Their high starch content makes cashews a very effective thickener when ground and added to smoothies, soups, and stews. Because of their creamy texture and white color, they’re also often used to make dairy-free cheese and cream.
Substitute: almonds (blanched), macadamia nuts

cashews

Hazelnuts

Origin: Turkey
Main producers: Turkey, Italy, Spain
Profile: there are two types of hazelnuts – American and European. American hazelnuts are small and round (0.5″/1.27 cm in diameter), while European hazelnuts are bigger with a slightly more pointed tip and a flat base (up to 1.6″/4 cm in diameter). Hazelnuts are rich and sweet on the inside, but the outer brown papery skin has a bitter aftertaste, which is why people commonly remove it. The texture of hazelnuts is firm and crunchy.
Characteristics: hard nuts
Popular uses: whole hazelnuts are the most common, although hazelnut flour and butter are becoming increasingly popular. Hazelnuts are often used in confections to make pralines, chocolate truffles, and chocolate spreads like Nutella
Substitute: almonds

hazelnuts

Macadamia Nuts

Origin: Australia
Main producers: South Africa and Australia
Profile: macadamia nuts are small (1″/2.5 cm in diameter) nuts containing either a spherical nut or two hemisphere nuts that are light beige. Because the shell of macadamia nuts is very difficult to open, macadamia nuts – just like cashews – are always sold shelled. Once the shell is removed, the kernel is only 15% of the whole nut, explaining why these nuts are among the more expensive. Macadamia nuts have a rich buttery flavor with a subtle sweetness and tropical nuances of coconut and honey. Their texture is creamy, dense, and crunchy.
Characteristics: hard nuts
Popular uses: whole macadamia nuts, nut butter, and nut milk are all common. Macadamia nuts are also often used to make white chocolate macadamia cookies.
Substitute: cashews

macadamia nuts

Pecans

Origin: southern America and northern Mexico
Main producers: United States (Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas)
Profile: pecans are medium (1.2-1.5″/3-4 cm long) oval to oblong nuts comprised of two symmetrical halves. Each half bears a slightly rounded side and a flat side, created by the two halves pressing against one another while the nut matures. Shelled pecans can range from golden brown to deep reddish-brown color, and their size can also vary. Pecans are very popular because of their sweet, rich, indulgent taste and soft, slightly crunchy texture.
Characteristics: soft nuts
Popular uses: pecan halves are a popular snack and an essential ingredient for pecan pie and pecan bars.
Substitute: walnuts

pecans

Pine Nuts

Origin: southern Europe and western Asia
Main producers: China, Russia, and North Korea
Profile: pine nuts are small (0.5″/1.27 cm long), elongated with one pointed and one rounded end, similar to a teardrop, and ivory colored. They have a rich, slightly resinous pine-like flavor with a sweet undercurrent and are known for their delicate, soft texture. Pine nuts are one of the most expensive ingredients in the world, thanks to the amount of time needed to cultivate the nuts and the amount of effort required to extract the pine nut from the tight embrace of its double shell. An interesting fact: pine nuts can produce what is known as “pine nut syndrome,” causing some people to experience a bitter or metallic taste lasting from a few days up to two weeks. 
Characteristics: soft nuts
Popular uses: pine nuts are a favorite in pesto or salads. 
Substitute: cashews

pine nuts

Pistachios

Origin: Persia (modern-day Iran)
Main producers: United States (California), Turkey, Iran
Profile: pistachio nuts are unique in many ways. Not only do they come with a pre-cracked shell, but the small kernel is green, thanks to the presence of chlorophyll. Pistachios have a unique flavor that is slightly sweet and nutty, with a hint of saltiness. They’re known for their distinctively fruity taste, which is often described as complex. Pistachios have a firm, slightly crunchy texture that can be slightly grainy or mealy. 
Characteristics: semi-hard nuts
Popular uses: pistachios are a popular snack and are also used in pistachio ice cream, pistachio butter, and confections such as baklava.
Substitute: cashews

pistachios

Walnuts

Origin: Persia (modern-day Iran)
Main producers: China, United States (California), Chile
Profile: there are more than a dozen species of walnut trees with edible nuts, but English walnuts and black walnuts stand out as the two varieties most widely known and used. English walnuts, also called Persian walnuts, are more commercially significant than black walnuts. The kernels of English walnuts are split into two halves (1.2-1.5″/3-4 cm long) with symmetrical segments and deep ridges, creating a winged, butterfly shape. They are light brown in color and covered in dark brown veins spreading outward from the center of the nut on both sides. Walnuts have a distinctive earthy and citrusy aroma and a rich, earthy flavor with a slight sweetness and bitterness at the same time. Their texture is semi-soft with a pleasant crunch.
Characteristics: soft nuts
Popular uses: other than enjoying walnut halves as a snack, walnuts are commonly used in baking, from banana bread to cinnamon rolls and cranberry walnut bread. Walnuts are also often added to salads and served beside soft and salty cheeses on a cheeseboard.
Substitute: pecans

walnuts

Tree Nuts & Allergies

Tree nuts are considered priority allergens, meaning they cause most allergic reactions. In North America, approximately one in every 200 people has a tree nut allergy, making it one of the most common food allergies among adults and kids.

Some people with a tree nut allergy may be allergic to only one type of tree nut, while others may be allergic to several. It’s also common to be allergic to nuts from the same tree nut family. For instance, people who are allergic to pecans are more likely to be allergic to walnuts because they’re in the same plant family. And inversely, people who can tolerate pecans are more likely to tolerate walnuts. Besides pecans and walnuts, cashews and pistachios are also in the same plant family.

Peanuts are not considered tree nuts, so it is possible to be allergic to tree nuts without being allergic to peanuts. However, about 40% of people allergic to tree nuts also react to peanuts. (1)

Foods Containing Tree Nuts

If you have a tree nut allergy, it’s important to read food labels carefully and avoid any products that contain tree nuts or may have come into contact with them during processing. In addition to whole nuts, tree nuts can be found in various foods, some obvious, some perhaps not. For example, foods like almond milk or cashew butter clearly contain tree nuts.

But tree nuts are also often ingredients in baked goods, ice cream, cereals, sauces, and other manufactured products.

Some foods that almost always contain tree nuts include marzipan (almond paste), Turrón (almonds), Nutella (hazelnuts), Ferrero Rocher (hazelnuts), pralines (pecans), baklava (pistachios), and certain liqueurs, such as Amaretto (almonds), Frangelico (hazelnuts), and Nocello (walnuts). Some other foods that typically contain tree nuts are cereal, granola and granola bars, trail mix, ice cream and other frozen desserts, and baked goods.

As with many common allergens, tree nuts are sometimes found in unlikely foods. This list does not include them all, so read the labels on all packaged foods.