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Tomato: Fruit or Vegetable?
Tomato: Fruit or Vegetable?

Some of the foods we think of or use as vegetables are actually fruits. The most famous of these is the tomato. But what it is that gives tomatoes this classification, when most people would rather use them in a sauce or on a sandwich than bite into them like an apple?

01

The truth about tomatoes

Tomatoes on a vine Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Your teachers in school were right: the tomato is a fruit. If that confused you back then — or if it still confuses you now — there's a good reason. Despite being technically a fruit, tomatoes are savory, which means we eat them as if they were vegetables. So don't feel bad if you're still munching on tomatoes in salads and sandwiches — you're doing it right.

02

How can we tell if something is a fruit or a vegetable?

Fresh fruits and vegetables fcafotodigital / Getty Images

In very simple terms: Fruits have seeds. The main difference between fruits and vegetables has nothing to do with what they taste like; it's all about what part of the plant they come from. Fruits come from the ovary of a flowering plant, which must be pollinated and fertilized before they can grow. Vegetables, on the other hand, are all the other edible parts of a plant, like roots, stems, and leaves.

03

Culinary vegetables vs. botanical fruits

Chopping tomatoes in the kitchen RuslanDashinsky / Getty Images

To further complicate things, a food can be both a fruit and a vegetable at the same time — sort of. It's the difference between the botanical and culinary definition, which means that certain foods are considered by chefs to be vegetables even though science classifies them as fruits. Tomatoes are one of these; because tomatoes are savory, you won't ever see them in a sweet pie or fruit salads, but they'll always be a staple in ratatouille.

04

The legal verdict

Gavel Marilyn Nieves / Getty Images

To throw another spanner in the works, tomatoes are legally classified as a vegetable. In 1893, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that tomatoes should be taxed as vegetables rather than fruit, meaning that imported tomatoes are subject to a higher tax rate. In the ruling, the court acknowledged that a tomato is technically a fruit, but decided to use the layman definition of fruits and vegetables instead.

05

Other fruit vs vegetable controversies

peppers are actually fruits

You may have already known that a tomato is a fruit. But did you know that it's not the only fruit commonly classified as a vegetable? Peppers of all kinds — including jalapeños — are fruits, too. So are cucumbers, eggplant, olives, corn, and even string beans! All gourds fall into the botanical category of fruit — that goes for pumpkins, squash, and zucchini.

06

Legumes

Organic legumes Janine Lamontagne / Getty Images

Legumes are the fruit or seed of plants in the Fabaceae family. Which means — you guessed it — they're a fruit. A lot of common legumes, like peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas, are technically seeds, while the pods they come in are the fruit. Another surprising fact? Peanuts aren't really nuts; they're legumes, which makes them a fruit, too.

07

Berries

raspberries are not actually berries

Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and mulberries are delicious — but, despite their names, none of them are berries. Scientifically speaking, berries are produced from the ovary of a single flower, which makes all those fruits aggregate or multiple fruits rather than true berries. What fruits really are berries, then? Cucumbers, eggplants, zucchinis, peppers, bananas, and grapes are all berries. Avocados are single-seeded berries, while pumpkins and watermelons are a type of giant berry.

08

Sweet vegetables

Sweet potato pie MSPhotographic / Getty Images

If a pumpkin is a fruit, what about sweet potatoes? Not so fast — even though they taste sweeter than a lot of fruits on this list, sweet potatoes and yams are techinaclly vegetables. In fact, a lot of foods commonly used in desserts and other sweet dishes are vegetables rather than fruits, including beets, carrots, turnips, and rhubarb.

09

Other fun fruit and vegetable facts

pomegranates can have more than 1000 seeds
  • If broccoli kind of looks like a flower to you, that's because it is. The head of a broccoli is a flower that hasn't fully opened yet. So is a cauliflower, making it one food that's aptly named.
  • Pomegranates can contain up to 1400 seeds.
  • Ripe cranberries bounce — give it a try!
  • The smelliest fruit in the world grows in south-east Asia. It's called a durian, and it smells so bad that it's actually banned in some places — think garbage, rotten eggs, and smelly gym socks, yet it's still a popular addition to some dishes.
10

Does it really matter?

Shopping for fruits and vegetables AlenaPaulus / Getty Images

Nutritionally, not so much. Fruits and vegetables are both an essential part of any balanced diet. They're both low in fat and sodium and high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Most fruits are higher in sugar and calories, but these natural sugars are still a lot healthier than the added sweeteners found in other snacks and desserts. Different kinds of fruits and vegetables have their own unique health benefits, too; citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, while tubers are a great source of B vitamins, and leafy greens like spinach and kale contain an antioxidant called lutein, which protects the body from free radicals.

At the end of the day, just remember that fruits and vegetables are both good for you — even if you can't always tell them apart.

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