Most of us would like to think we could tell the difference between a fruit and a vegetable. But when it comes to certain food items like tomatoes, the line between them might not be as clear-cut as you think. In fact, even your local grocers might be labeling them wrong. So here we’ll answer the age-old question: Is a tomato a fruit? And reveal other fruits and vegetables you might be mislabeling.
Is a Tomato a Fruit?
The question as to whether a tomato is a fruit is a lot more fraught with controversy than you might think. So much so that it was even the subject of a U.S. court case back in 1893. And as a result of that ruling, tomatoes are considered to be a vegetable under U.S. law. But in truth, it all depends on who you are asking as a botanist, for example, will likely give you a different answer to a chef.
The Botanical Classification of a Tomato
From a botanist’s point of view, tomatoes are a fruit. That’s because, from a scientific standpoint, the structure, function, and composition of a fruit or vegetable define what it is. Botanically speaking, a fruit is a fleshy product that grows from a plant’s flower containing at least one seed. And since a tomato meets this definition, it is classified as a fruit. To be more exact, it’s a type of berry. Meanwhile, vegetables are defined as any other part of the plant – for example, the roots, stem, and leaves.
The Culinary Classification of a Tomato
In the culinary world, the definition of a fruit or vegetable changes. After all, those that work in a kitchen environment are much less interested in the function of a fruit or vegetable than its flavor profile. From a culinary perspective, the criteria for fruit have more to do with its soft texture and sweet or tangy taste and its suitability for desserts, jams, and pastries. Meanwhile, culinary workers define vegetables by their blander and occasionally bitter taste and their suitability for savory dishes.
Of course, tomatoes can also be enjoyed raw and are considered quite sweet. But since people typically use tomatoes in savory dishes, they are often considered a vegetable, hence the 1893 ruling. So, if you hear someone call a tomato a vegetable, they’re not necessarily wrong. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that a tomato is a fruit from a scientific viewpoint.
Five Other Fruits You May Have Mistaken for Vegetables
Tomatoes aren’t the only food items that have an identity crisis. Many other fruits are often mistaken for vegetables or used that way in a culinary sense.
Here are five other fruits you may have mistaken for vegetables.
1 Bell Peppers
Bell peppers are pretty sweet and often eaten raw. But because people typically use them in savory dishes, many think of them as vegetables. But because bell peppers bear seeds, they are, in fact, a fruit.
Cucumbers are interesting from a culinary standpoint because people typically eat them raw, but they’re not exactly sweet. But regardless, since their function is to spread seeds, they are technically a fruit.
When you think of berries, you might picture strawberries and blueberries. But despite having the word “berries” in their name, neither of these fruits are berries at all. Instead, if you’re looking for a more botanically accurate example of a berry, you’d be better off looking at a banana, a tomato, or even an eggplant. Yes, not only are eggplants a fruit and not a vegetable, but they are a berry.
Avocadoes are known for their many health benefits and as a fantastic source of monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats (a.k.a. the “good” fats). The taste of avocado may not exactly bring the word “fruity” to mind. But as anyone who has prepared an avocado knows, they contain a single big seed, which makes them a fruit.
5 Green Beans
Green beans are a staple vegetable at any family gathering the world over. Only green beans aren’t a type of vegetable at all. Instead, since a green bean is basically a pod full of seeds, they are a type of fruit according to science.
Other Interesting Fruit and Vegetable Facts
So now you know the answer to the question: Is a tomato a fruit? And you know how to spot other fruits that are often mistaken for vegetables. But here are some other interesting facts regarding fruit and vegetable classifications.
1 Rhubarbs Are Used Like Fruits but Are a Vegetable
As we’ve seen, many fruits are commonly mistaken for vegetables due to their look, texture, and taste. But occasionally, this misidentification happens the other way around, particularly when it comes to rhubarbs.
You could certainly describe the taste of rhubarb as fruity, and most people use it the same way as they would fruits. For example, rhubarb is a common ingredient for many dessert dishes and is often used to make jams. But while a 1947 court case ruled that rhubarbs are a fruit, they are perennial vegetables from a botanical point of view.
2 Nuts Are Also a Type of Fruit
You probably aren’t going to mistake a nut for a vegetable anytime soon. But you may also not have realized that nuts are a type of fruit. However, the confusion regarding the definition of a nut only begins there.
From a botanical standpoint, nuts are a particular kind of dry fruit with a single seed, a hard shell, and a protective husk. However, certain food items we often think of as nuts, such as peanuts and almonds, don’t meet this definition. In fact, the former is technically a type of legume. And yes, legumes are considered fruits as well.
3 Several U.S. States Have Fruits as Their State Vegetable
It’s not just grocers who tend to mislabel their fruits and vegetables. Entire states have done the same. For example, in Oklahoma, the state vegetable is a watermelon. And despite noting that the tomato is, in fact, technically a fruit, the states of New Jersey and Arkansas both consider a variety of tomatoes to be their state vegetable. Then, as if to add to the confusion, tomatoes are also considered the state fruit in Ohio.