Even doctors, dietitians and people with nut allergies have trouble naming the usual suspects

By Natasha Persaud

It’s crucial to spot nuts in foods if you or your child has a peanut or tree nut allergy. Accidentally eating an offending nut can lead to anaphylaxis—a severe allergic reaction that is life-threatening. But a study reveals that when it comes to identifying nuts, many of us are missing the mark in a big way!

Pecan Pistacchio, Almond, Walnut Image - Masterfile

Oh Nuts!

For the study, more than 1,000 people were asked to identify 19 different varieties of nuts (including in whole, shelled, chopped, slivered or crushed form).

Kids ages 6 and older correctly identified just 5 of these nut samples on average. Adults fared better with 11 correct responses, but their error rate was still high, failing to name the right nut in 8 instances.

You might think that adults and children with nut allergies—who live day to day with the specter of a bad reaction—would fare better on the visual test. Surprisingly, no: Just 50 percent of allergic individuals correctly identified all forms of peanuts or tree nuts to which they are allergic. Parents of allergic children performed no better than other parents with just three-quarters of them identifying the specific nuts to which their children would react. Even doctors, nurses and dietitians garnered less than stellar results on the test.

Getting Nutty

Participants identified whole forms of some nuts more readily, including peanuts, almonds and pecans. When any nut was chopped, crushed or slivered—as it might be in cereals, trail mix, yogurt, Asian dishes, and dessert toppings—test takers had a harder time. In the real world, reading food labels is helpful for spotting nuts as an ingredient (intentional or accidental) but it is inadequate.

Hazelnut - MasterfileOf the 19 nut forms below, the nut that tripped up participants the most was Hazelnuts, with or without the shell.

  1. Cashew, without shell
  2. Hazelnut (filbert), in shell
  3. Pistachio, without shell
  4. Brazil nut, without shell
  5. Almond, slivered
  6. Pecan, in shell
  7. Walnut, crushed
  8. Peanut, without shell
  9. Pecan, crushed
  10. Pine nut (Pignolia), without shell
  11. Almond, without shell
  12. Peanut, in shell
  13. Macadamia nut, without shell
  14. Pistachio, in shell
  15. Brazil nut, in shell
  16. Pecan, without shell
  17. Walnut, in shell
  18. Hazelnut (filbert), without shell
  19. Walnut, without shell

The lesson: If you or your child has a nut allergy, make sure you and everyone who cares for your youngster can identify the troublesome nut in all its forms (the list above includes some common forms). Child care workers include babysitters, teachers at school, coaches, Sunday school instructors, camp counselors, scout leaders and others who spend time with your child. Your best defense is becoming better informed!


Hostetler, T. et al. The ability of adults and children to visually identify peanuts and tree nuts. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Volume 108, Issue 1, Pages 25-29, January 2012.

Publication Review By: the Editorially Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 05 Apr 2012

Last Modified: 15 Sep 2015