Is Coconut a Tree Nut?

Does Your Tree Nut Allergy Apply to Coconuts?

Contrary to what its name suggests, a coconut (Cocos nucifera) is not a nut—it's a fruit. Despite this, the Food and Drug Administration classifies it as a tree nut for the purposes of food allergen labeling.

Coconuts may be a concern for people who have allergies to other nuts. However, just because you are allergic to tree nuts like cashews or almonds doesn't necessarily mean that you also have an allergy to coconut.

Coconut allergies are uncommon. Yet, the challenge is that coconut is found in many foods, so it's important to understand whether or not you're allergic to it.

Group of friends sipping coconut with straw
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Does a Tree Nut Allergy Apply to Coconut?

The real question is whether coconut is a dangerous food for those with tree nut allergies. And the answer is, "It depends." Allergies to coconuts are believed to be far less common than allergies to cashews and almonds (two particularly allergenic tree nuts).

Botanically, coconuts are most closely related to other palms and betel nuts. They come from coconut palm trees and are not closely related to most other tree nuts.

While botanical relationships are not the only factor that determines whether two foods will be cross-reactive, foods that are close biological relatives often share related allergenic proteins. A good example of this phenomenon are cashews and pistachios. These are two closely related plants that contain similar proteins. People who are allergic to one of these nuts are often allergic to both.

There is some evidence of cross-reactivity between coconuts and hazelnuts and between coconuts and walnuts. One study also found an association between coconut allergies and those to almonds and macadamias.

While there are associations, the likelihood of also having a coconut allergy remains considerably low. For example, one study examined children with peanut and tree nut allergies. The results concluded that these children were more likely to be sensitive to sesame than coconut.

Testing for a Coconut Allergy

What does this mean about coconut's role in your diet if you've been diagnosed with another tree nut allergy? First of all, try to avoid coconut after a positive allergy test to another tree nut. It's best to err on the side of caution because there is a possibility of cross-reactivity and tree nut reactions can be severe.

How to Avoid Coconut

To avoid coconut in foods, you need to be a food label detective. Coconut is present in many foods as a derivative in the form of coconut oil, rice, sugar, water, cream, milk, and milk powder. It’s also present in rum, candy, and many desserts.

You’ll find many coconut-derived ingredients in soaps and shampoos as well. Some people may have skin sensitivity (or allergic contact dermatitis) to coconut oil from these products. Therefore, if you feel it may be causing itchy or irritated skin, keep an eye out for ingredients and alcohols in beauty products that may be derived from coconut.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Beveridge FC, Kalaipandian S, Yang C, Adkins SW. Fruit biology of coconut (Cocos nucifera L.). Plants. 2022;11(23). doi:10.3390/plants11233293

  2. Food and Drug Administration. Guidance for industry: A food labeling guide.

  3. Anagnostou K. Coconut Allergy Revisited. Children (Basel). 2017;4(10). doi:10.3390/children4100085

  4. Polk BI, Dinakarpandian D, Nanda M, Barnes C, Dinakar C. Association of tree nut and coconut sensitizations. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2016;117(4):412-416. doi:10.1016/j.anai.2016.07.023

  5. Stutius LM, Sheehan WJ, Rangsithienchai P, et al. Characterizing the relationship between sesame, coconut, and nut allergy in children. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2010;21(8):1114-8. doi:10.1111/j.1399-3038.2010.00997.x

Additional Reading

By Victoria Groce
Victoria Groce is a medical writer living with celiac disease who specializes in writing about dietary management of food allergies.