fruit or vegetable?

Without a doubt, a raspberry is a fruit; and a cabbage is a vegetable.  As for a tomato? Well, that’s debatable. (As far as this blogger/gardener is concerned, tomatoes are vegetables. And, as you’ll soon find out, tax lawyers agree.)

Curiosity piqued? Here’s the skinny.  Whether some edible plants are fruits or vegetables all depends on whether you side with chefs or gardeners. Most gardeners use botanical definitions. (I say “most” because while I am a gardener, I disagree with my comrades.) But let’s dig into this:

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)

Chefs have another take. It all comes down to whether the vegetable is primarily sweet or savory. Sweet, fruit; savory, vegetable. I like that definition.

As I noted above, tomatoes are debatable. Sure, botanically-speaking they are fruits. But over one hundred years ago the Supreme Court declared the issue was not settled. 

Green Zebra Tomato

legally, tomatoes are vegetables

“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 Supreme Court 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).

vegetables with many edible parts

Orange Giant Amaranth

For some edible plants, like amaranth (pictured above), fruit or vegetable is not the question; it’s how many types of vegetables does the plant produce. You see, for many varieties of amaranth nearly every part of the plant, properly prepared, is edible.  That goes for the stem, branches, leaves, flowers, and seeds. Similarly, peas have many edible parts. Its young shoots are vegetables, as are its seeds, and sometimes even its pods. As for broccoli, its florets, stalk, stems, and leaves are all edible.  And as for beetroot, we all know its root is a vegetable.  But its young leaves are perfect for sautéing. I even eat them raw on a cheese sandwich.

learn how to grow your own vegetables

Does all this reading about fruits and vegetables have you curious about how to grow your own? Don’t worry if you haven’t developed a green thumb or noggin yet. There are plenty of resources that can help you learn how to grow the food you love. For example, your state or local extension office may have a wealth of information on how to grow vegetables specifically in your climate. The University of Minnesota’s Extension office has specific webpages for most of the vegetables listed below. (I’ve found other resources for the veggies not covered by my extension office.)