The Truth About Tomatoes

Without a doubt, a raspberry is a fruit; and a cabbage is a vegetable.  As for a tomato? Well, that’s debatable.

Here’s the skinny.  Whether some edible plants are fruits or vegetables all depends on whether you come at things primarily as a gardener or primarily as a cook.  Gardeners, by and large, use botanical definitions:

Botanically-speaking, a fruit is a seed-bearing structure that develops from the ovary of a flowering plant, whereas vegetables are all other plant parts, such as roots, leaves and stems. By those standards, seedy outgrowths such as apples, squash and, yes, tomatoes are all fruits, while roots such as beets, potatoes [which are actually tubers, not roots] and turnips, leaves such as spinach, kale and lettuce, and stems such as celery and broccoli are all vegetables.

(Live Science, 12 June 2012)

Most cooks have another take. It all comes down to whether the edible is sweet or savory. Sweet, fruit; savory, vegetable.

The U.S. Supreme Court sides with the cooks.

“In the 1893 United States Supreme Court case Nix. v. Hedden, the court ruled unanimously that an imported tomato should be taxed as a vegetable, rather than as a (less taxed) fruit” (ibid).

In the decision, the justices distinguished between science and everyday life. The justices admitted that botanically-speaking, tomatoes were technically fruits. But in everyday life, they decided, vegetables were things ‘usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats … and not, like fruits generally, as dessert’ (NPR, 26 December 2013).

Who do I side with? Am I primarily a gardener or primarily a cook? (Some would say I am primarily neither. Ha! Ha!) While I consider my gardening skills stronger than my cooking skills, I’ve always sided with tomatoes being vegetables. (But that’s a whole other story/blog post.) For the purposes of the food-classification debate, I admittedly I try to have it both ways. Some of us gardeners refer to savory fruits and “fruiting vegetables.”

So where do you stand? The gardeners? The cooks? Or those of us who straddle the fence?  Feel free to leave your comments below.

Garden on, friends!