What is the difference between Seed, Grain, Nut, Kernel, Pit, Bean?

Seed (as in apple)
Grain (as in wheat), 
Nut (as in almond)
Kernel (as in corn)
Pit (as in olive)
Bean (as in fava/broad bean)

Hierarchy: Bean <- Seed <- Grain

Is Bean super type of seed?
Is seed super type of grain?

My some assumptions:

  • Kernel is the soft, edible part of a nut. Kernels refer specifically to nuts.
  • Grains are small, hard, dry seeds.
  • central part of a fruit that contains the seeds e.g. He threw the core of the apple away.
  • A nut is a fruit composed of a hard shell and a seed, which is generally edible.
  • Beans are seeds, not the other way around. (eg, a sunflower seed is not a bean). There's also the (british?) term 'pulse' which collects up beans & lentils. I suspect that 'kernel' is more about the fact that something has more than one part than a specific botanical seed-ness.
    – Joe
    Aug 18, 2015 at 13:15
  • 2
    I don't suppose you've actually looked at the Wikipedia articles or simple dictionary definitions about these different things? They are very helpful, in general.
    – Catija
    Aug 18, 2015 at 14:46

1 Answer 1


Your assumptions and "hierarchy" are incorrect. "Seed" is the most basic term, the other terms are characterizations of seeds. However, the use of any given term in a culinary settings may have little to do with the term's strict botanical definition. For culinary purposes there are no definite rules for which things are called nuts, pits, beans, grains, etc.

For example, the term beans used to be exclusively used for broad beans (fava beans), but today we use the term to describe plants as biologically and geographically disparate as soy, garbanzo, coffee, legumes, castor, and cocoa.

Kernel does not only refer to the center part of a nut. It is also regularly used to refer to the individual seeds of corn/maize, wheat, buckwheat, and barley.

Grains used to refer specifically to the seeds of grass food crops like wheat, barley, oats, and corn/maize. Today it is also a catch-all term which is used for similar food crops that are not grass seeds such as amaranth, millet, quinoa, rice, buckwheat, and even soy.

As a culinary term, "nut" has also undergone an expansion of meaning from, as you put it, "a fruit composed of a hard shell and a seed, which is generally edible" to include basically any relatively large, oily kernels found within a shell and used in food. In fact, the majority of the "nuts" we commonly eat are not true nuts.

  • There is still a long laundry list of things that can not be confused even for culinary reasons. You'd never call that which is found in the core of the apple as "pits." It's always seeds. Jan 8, 2017 at 19:39
  • This is indeed poorly written and erroneous. It's not that what you're saying is totally wrong but parts of it are and, even if you were right, still incomplete. In the end, for example, you say "not true nuts" but in the beginning "they're all merely "characterizations of seeds." So then the honorary adjective "true" is merely more confusing. A nut is a one-celled, one-seeded dry fruit with a hard shell (pericarp), which may have one seed or two, themselves the embryonic plant. Seeds however, are the small plant enclosed in the seed coat, which is stored food to nourish the plant as it grows. Feb 10, 2022 at 13:54
  • Sorry but there is a lot left out in your answer, not just scientifically but also in terms of usage. People really need to be careful on what they allege as fact, and readers should also be careful about what they believe as fact; most especially on fora like this. Feb 10, 2022 at 13:56

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