Fruit or Vegetable?

With spring finally here, there is a buzz in the air about what to plant in the garden. Tomatoes? Cucumbers? Zucchini? Pumpkins? Peanuts? Spinach? Pick up any seed catalog catering to vegetable gardeners and you will quickly see that there are hundreds of varieties of vegetables to plant. Interestingly, the question of whether it's a fruit or vegetable is usually raised around the same time as the question of what to plant.

As a botanist I am compelled to be, well-botanical about it. Fruits are the end result of reproduction and actually contain seeds themselves. Vegetables are typically defined as one of several plant parts such as stems, leaves, or roots. There is however, a lot of overlap and culturally we call many fruits vegetables reserving the word fruits for something that is sweet to the taste like an apple or pear.

For instance, a tomato is a fruit but is usually called a vegetable. In fact it was officially declared a vegetable by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1893. A cucumber is also a fruit in the botanical world, but we call it a vegetable as well. So is an eggplant, which is also referred to as a vegetable. Watermelons are fruits too but for some reason are called neither fruit nor vegetable for the most part, just simply watermelons.

Potatoes are called vegetables and do fit the definition of vegetable because again, botanically speaking they are a plant part, the root. Peanuts are not nuts at all, but are actually tubers or modified roots in the legume or bean family. Brussel sprouts are the lateral buds, a head of cabbage is just a bunch of tightly compacted leaves, spinach is actually the part of the plant we call the leaves, and so on.

Fruit or vegetable, it doesn't really matter, as long as it tastes good.

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