Many people realize that the tomato, one of the most beloved “vegetables,” is, in reality, a fruit. In fact, a number of other vegetables are actually fruits—and there are even a few fruits that are actually vegetables. We tend to make the distinction between fruits and vegetables based upon how sweet they are, but the science behind what makes something a fruit or vegetable is a bit more involved.
Is It Fruit or a Vegetable?
A botanist will tell you that any part of a plant that develops from a flower and contains the plant’s seeds is a fruit. Any other part of the plant is a vegetable. In other words, knowing what you are eating requires thinking through the plant’s growing process.
However, many just use the rule of thumb that edible plants are fruits if they have seeds. If it is seedless, it is a vegetable. Adding to the confusion is the fact that, in culinary terms, sweeter produce is generally categorized as a fruit. Therefore, even though produce such as eggplants, bell peppers, and tomatoes are truly fruits, their savory (versus sweet) flavor makes most people, including chefs, think of them as veg.
Fruit vs. Vegetable, U.S. Supreme Court, 1893
The Supreme Court of the United States weighed in on the classification battle—and even they got it wrong, at least botanically. The Supreme Court ruled in Nix v. Hedden that imported tomatoes are taxable as vegetables, rather than as fruit, which was subject to a lower tariff. The court’s reasoning? Because people generally believed tomatoes are vegetables, they are then vegetables and subject to the higher tariff. Undoubtedly, generations of botanists have cringed at the court’s verdict.
Fruits Disguised as Vegetables
Beyond tomatoes, many other vegetables (and even nuts) are botanically fruits:
- Corn kernel
- Sunflower seeds
True Veggies Do Exist
Fear not—plenty of real vegetables are out there. For instance, celery is a vegetable because we eat the stem of the plant. Lettuce is one because we eat the leaves. Beets, carrots, and potatoes are all vegetables because we consume the root portion of the plant.
There are a few vegetables usually thought of as fruits, but here is something that may make you rethink your next bowl of cereal: bananas, a beloved breakfast “fruit,” are actually an herb and a fruit. On top of that, a banana is actually a berry, since it grows from a single flower with one ovary and several seeds. Oh, and strawberries and raspberries are not really berries at all—they’re aggregate fruits (derived from a single flower with more than one ovary).
Forget the Distinctions – Just Eat More of Them
Confused yet? Just go with this: we all need to eat more plant matter, regardless of its status as a fruit or vegetable. Forget about the classification and instead concentrate on a healthy diet full of a variety of fruits and vegetables—whatever it may be.