Is Your Produce a Fruit or Vegetable?

You may be surprised what category your favorite produce falls under.

Eggplants Ready to Harvest When Fruits are Plump

Eggplants Ready to Harvest When Fruits are Plump

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

The hotly contested eggplant, part of the great "Is it a Fruit or Veggie?" debate.

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If your mom ever said “Eat your veggies!” while dishing up a serving of squash or cucumbers, it might give you some satisfaction to know that she was technically incorrect. Here’s the scoop:

  • Dictionary.com defines fruit as “the developed ovary of a seed plant with its contents and accessory parts, as the pea pod, nut, tomato or pineapple,” and “the edible part of a plant developed from a flower, with any accessory tissues, as the peach, mulberry or banana.”
  • While vegetable is defined as “any plant whose fruit, seeds, roots, tubers, bulbs, stems, leaves, or flower parts are used as food, as the tomato, bean, beet, potato, onion, asparagus, spinach or cauliflower” and “the edible part of such a plant, as the tuber of the potato.”

That means that there’s a whole list of foods that are often referred to as “vegetables” that are actually fruits. Others, like tomato, which you may have noticed appearing in both definitions above, are acknowledged as both fruit and veggie – and some, experts argue, are neither veggies nor fruits! Here are just a few highly contentious foods:

  • Tomatoes: Sure, we tend to use them in savory side dishes, but these sweet-off-the-vine beauties contain seeds and therefore, are technically fruit.
  • Eggplants: The star ingredient of baba ghanouj may taste like a veggie, but in the strictest sense, it’s a fruit.
  • Corn: Is it a fruit? Is it a veggie? Is it a grain? Experts say…all three! Technically speaking each kernel of corn is a fruit. But it can also be considered a grain. And it’s generally eaten as a vegetable. The debate rages on, even getting corn wrapped up in a  government battle in 2007, when lawmakers in New York proposed that sweet corn be named the state vegetable. Detractors insisted it be instead deemed the state grain, and a battle ensued (The grain supporters ultimately lost.)

Now, here’s where things get really confusing. While tomatoes, eggplant, cucumber, avocado, pumpkins, pepper, squash and a handful of other plants are, botanically speaking, fruits, they tend to be eaten as savory side dishes and are therefore, in many experts’ eyes, bona fide veggies. After hours of research it’s clear that nobody quite agrees on how to classify these troublesome but tasty types of produce, so my philosophy has become clear: just eat and enjoy, and leave the arguing to the scientists.

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