How to Be Properly Pedantic About Fruits and Vegetables

If you think you’re a smartypants because you know a tomato is a fruit, buckle up. You’re right, but a tomato is also a vegetable. And rice is a fruit. And some of the things you think are fruits—strawberries, for example—aren’t actually what they seem.

“Vegetable” Is Not a Scientific Term

Before we get into what a fruit is, we need to talk about vegetables. You won’t open up a botany textbook and find anything about vegetables; it’s just a term that we non-scientists use to describe our food. Merriam-webster has a typical definition:

a usually herbaceous plant (such as the cabbage, bean, or potato) grown for an edible part that is usually eaten as part of a meal; also : such an edible part

Claire Lower defines a vegetable, as “a plant part that is usually used in savory applications, and doesn’t have a sweet flavor.”

Note that the way we use the term in the kitchen isn’t the same way we’d use it in a nutrition analysis. Potatoes are starchy, so I’d consider them an alternative to other starchy foods (like bread, rice, and pasta). If I’m asking my kids to eat their vegetables, I don’t think a bowl of mashed potatoes would qualify. So is a potato a vegetable? Yes and no.

Glad we cleared that up.

What Is a Fruit?

There are multiple definitions of fruit. First is the one that you know when you see: apples, peaches, raspberries and so on. They typically have seeds and taste sweet.


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