There’s that one night, or many, when you think about questions that are difficult to answer without the wit of the mind. When you get out of the shower clean, why does the towel get dirty? Or maybe, what happens when you get scared half to death… twice? These are questions I’d like to be answered but unanswered at the same time. Following this format, have you ever thought about the innocence of a tomato? What really is a tomato? Is it a fruit or a vegetable? 

No food item walks the fine line between fruit and vegetable more famously than the tomato. Sure, people may have told you that tomatoes are technically fruits––and very convincingly at that. But the decision is still in the gray area. Truthfully, the tomato is both a fruit and a vegetable at the same time

How is a Tomato a Fruit?

Just like in many investigations, we must first find the ways “fruit” is actually defined. According to Merriam-Webster, a fruit is “the usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant.” Well, that’s a big ol’ check. Scientifically speaking and… seed-fully speaking? A tomato is a fruit!

Gladly, the dictionary explained it in layman’s terms, saying that “any thing that grows on a plant and is the means by which that plant gets its seeds out into the world is a fruit.” If that’s the definition, then alongside apples, tomatoes are technically something that grows from a plant and contains seeds. This includes the likes of cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins, and avocados. Yes, according to science and the English language, even peppers are fruits.

So… is ketchup just a tomato smoothie? 

How is a Tomato a Vegetable?

When I was a kid, I just considered tomatoes vegetables because I didn’t like eating them. There was no way I’d eat a tomato just like an apple. Plus it isn’t sweet––isn’t that how fruits are supposed to be? 

As a vegetable, however, the definition gets a bit more blurry. Vegetables are a wide range of plants whose parts consist of leaves, stems, and roots––mostly herbaceous, to say the least. Why tomatoes are heavily argued as fruits and not vegetables are because, according to the dictionary, a vegetable must be a part of a plant or the whole plant itself, while fruits are just the means by which certain plants spread their seeds. 

The thing a tomato plant produces isn’t a part of the plant itself, any more than the egg a chicken lays is part of the chicken, or the apple is part of the tree on which it grew,” Merriam-Webster wrote.

But a group of vegetables isn’t scientific enough to warrant itself as a whole new botanical group or classification––so much as it is a culinary one. Oh, and fruits can be culinary as well! They’re literally on the main page of desserts and sweet courses. Of course, fruits don’t have to be naturally sweet. In the kitchen, it’s a whole different game. If you’re a fruit that falls on the more savory side of things, just like tomatoes, you’d be classified as a vegetable. 

Tomatoes were Sent to Court

The conversation got so heated that scientists and even the Supreme Court had to swoop in. Nutritionists recognized tomatoes are, under USDA guidelines, vegetables. Even the Supreme Court had a say way back in 1893 when they were forced to a decision whether imported tomatoes should be taxed under the Tariff Act of 1883––an act that only concerns vegetables, not fruits. 

It was a battle between definitions, fruits or vegetables, but the court was unanimously on the side of the vegetable team. 

Justice Horace Grey said the following arguments with his chest:

Botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas,” Grey stated as the court’s opinion.

But in the common language of the people … all these are vegetables which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert.

The debate became so criminally deceptive that it was up to the high court to judge a ruling on what it should be. Even today, the debate still rages on. Gladly, this is no conversation to break relationships over––just well-planned diets, for the most part. 

The only reasonable answer to this unending discussion is to just accept the fact that tomatoes are, by definition, both fruit and vegetable. No taxes, no desserts, just by pure definition. Fittingly, Miles Kington once said a quote that may just be the be-all, end-all: 

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” 

To conclude, ketchup is a tomato smoothie. 


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Lucas Beaumont
Generalist. Wikipedia contributor. Elementary school teacher from Saskatchewan, Canada.

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