A nutshell is the outer shell of a nut. Most nutshells are inedible and are removed before eating the nut meat inside.

Korean Pine nuts — shelled, and shell, above; unshelled, below


Most nutshells are useful to some extent, depending on the circumstances. Walnut shells can be used for cleaning and polishing, as a filler in dynamite, and as a paint thickening agent.[1] Shells from pecans, almonds, Brazil nuts, acorns, and most other nuts are useful in composting.[2]

Their high porosity makes them also ideal in the production of activated carbon by pyrolysis.

Shells can also be used as loose-fill packing material, to protect fragile items in shipping.

Idiomatic usageEdit

The expression "in a nutshell" (of a story, proof, etc.) means "in essence", metaphorically alluding to the fact that the essence of the nut - its edible part - is contained inside its shell. The expression further gave rise to the journalistic term nut graph, short for nutshell paragraph.

In Hamlet (Act 2, Scene 2) the title character exclaims: "O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a King of infinite space".

Older uses of this have been reported, too. It is said to have been used by Pliny the Elder.[3] He mentioned in the encyclopedic Naturalis historia a report by Cicero saying that a handwritten version of the Iliad by Homer would have fit in a nut[shell]: "in nuce inclusam Iliadem Homeri carmen in membrana scriptum tradit Cicero".[4]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Walnuts as a filler in dynamite, thickening agent, and polisher.", Wikipedia Walnut Article, accessed November 07, 2010.
  2. ^ "Composting Nut shells.", GardenWeb, accessed November 07, 2010.
  3. ^ Ernst Lautenbach: Latein-Deutsch: Zitaten-Lexikon, Quellennachweise, Münster, LIT, 2002, ISBN 3-8258-5652-6, S. 343
  4. ^ Naturalis historia, 7, 21, 85; Wikisource-Digitalisat

External linksEdit