Tomato, Whom Art Thou?

Let’s ponder a question; a question almost as popular as: why did the chicken cross the road? Here it is: is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? 

Now you might be quick to respond with an answer. But be careful. You see, this question is mired in semantic chaos. In fact, both terms may be applied correctly.

To a botanist the issue is quite simple. A tomato is a ripened ovary, thus it is a fruit (to be more specific, it is a berry). Vegetable is not a scientific term, so it is not used. A tomato is a fruit.

If you look the word vegetable up in a dictionary you will get a very vague and broad definition like: “any member of the vegetable kingdom” or “any plant whose fruit, seeds, roots, tubers, bulbs, stems, leaves, or flower parts are used as food.” So a tomato is a vegetable too. In 1893 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the tomato was a vegetable in Nix v. Hedden. Well, sort of. To paraphrase the ruling: We know tomatoes are technically fruit, but everyone refers to them as vegetables, so they are vegetables. Later, Associate Justice Potter Stewart was asked about the verdict and he said: “I know a vegetable when I see a vegetable” (ok, so I made that last quote up).  

You might be wondering what my point is. Here it is: fruit and vegetable are not exclusive terms. One of them is a scientific term, one is not. Tomato happens to be described by both of them.

Oh by the way, the chicken crossed the road because he is a thrill-seeking daredevil.



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Filed under Horticulture, Thoughts

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