What Is the Difference Between a Nut and a Legume?

A legume has multiple seeds in a pod that opens when ripe, while a nut is hard-shelled with a single seed. Examples of legumes are peas, beans, peanuts and lentils. Legumes grown for livestock foraging include alfalfa, clover and kudzu. Examples of nuts are almonds, cashews, coconuts, pecans, walnuts and pine nuts.

There are more than 11,000 species of legumes. Legumes are easy to grow, well-suited to long-term storage and are highly nutritious. They are good source of protein, fiber, minerals and vitamin B. Some common varieties of peas and beans include chickpeas and cowpeas, lima beans and soybeans. Lentils have short, broad pods with small lens-shaped seeds. Peanuts are true legumes rather than nuts because of their shell-like pods.

The botanical definition of a nut requires that the shell does not open to release the seed. Examples of these "true nuts" include hazelnuts, chestnuts and acorns. The common definition of a nut is broader and includes seeds that naturally free themselves from the shells. Examples of these nuts are pecans, pistachios and walnuts. Nuts have high fat content and are good sources of protein, vitamin E, folate, fiber and essential minerals. They contain substances that are thought to protect against coronary heart disease.