Seeds, stones, pips and pits. Whatever you call them, there’s only one question on every fruit fan’s mind. Can I eat this?
Part of what makes a fruit a fruit is that it serves as an important part of the reproductive system of the plant from which it grows. Botanically speaking, it’s kind of like an ovary. The fleshy and delicious part of the fruit is actually nature’s protective barrier for the plant’s seed.
When an animal like us picks a ripe peach, we make quick work of the juicy and nutritious part and discard the pit so that it can grow into a whole new peach tree. Similarly, when a bird scores a whole raspberry and eventually eliminates the seeds into a field, new raspberry plants have a better chance of flourishing.
Like the peach and the raspberry, each fruit seed is unique. Some fruit seeds are fully edible and add a crunchy texture to the eating experience. Just think of kiwis, pomegranates, blackberries, strawberries and dragon fruit!
Passion fruit seeds are exceptionally delectable. Other seeds are barely perceptible, like our herbaceous fruit friend, the banana. Papaya seeds are even enjoyed for their peppery, horseradish-like heat. Small, thin, pale yellow or white seeds found in fruits like guava, mangosteen and watermelon are typically edible and easily chewed.
Other fruit seeds are not safe for humans or animals to eat because they contain chemicals known to be poisonous, which may lead to severe sickness, gastrointestinal issues or worse. Many stone fruit pits fall into this category, including peaches, cherries, plums and nectarines. Inside the pit of these and other fruits is a smaller seed that contains amygdalin, which converts into hydrogen cyanide (yes, that cyanide), in the digestive process.
Amygdalin and other naturally occurring chemicals are found in many fruit seeds, even apples and pears. The good news is that, in general, you don’t have to be overly concerned about swallowing a bad seed or two. And if a few renegade cherry pits make their way into your smoothie, don’t panic. It may leave a bitter taste and you’ll want to protect any sensitive dental work, but the levels of harmful substances are quite low in individual seeds. It would take a heck of a lot of pits or seeds to get you seriously ill, but it’s best to avoid them altogether.
On the flip side, many of these chemicals are known to disappear when cooked! That’s why some fruit seeds are enjoyed only after boiling or roasting them. Cherry pits, one of the seeds most commonly understood to be poisonous, can be roasted and turned into sweet jams and glazes. Durian seeds become soft and starchy when cooked, but are not edible when raw.
Working around seeds is a small price to pay when you get to enjoy ripe, juicy and flavorful produce. In some cases, fruits make it easy for us to eat them whole, seeds and all! Other seeds are a bit more stubborn and will take some work to avoid them when you’re eating. To remove the seeds from your fruit (edible or otherwise), here are a few pro tips:
Whether you’re a champion watermelon seed spitter or love the juicy crunch of pomegranate seeds, you’re in good company when you join our FruitStand Facebook Group! Join us today to discuss everything there is to love about fruit, even the pits!