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Is a Tomato a Fruit or a Vegetable?

Updated on February 15, 2017
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As a person who loves to learn new things each day, Brandon makes it a point to teach others what he's learnt in fun and interactive ways.

You may not realize it, but most people at some point or another seem to ask themselves this question: 'Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?'. A few years ago, it was also a trending topic, that's when I decided to publish this article. Way back in 2011, just before Halloween.

Help this confused little tomato find out if it's a fruit or a vegetable.
Help this confused little tomato find out if it's a fruit or a vegetable. | Source

Before we answer this query, we first need to ask ourselves, why has this even come up as a question? Also, what's the reason for all the confusion? We're going to answer all of these questions in this article.

One last thing before we jump into the details, please take your time to answer the question below. It's fun because you get to see how others have voted.

When you first came to this article what were your thoughts about the tomato?

See results

What Led to This Debate?

Debates arose due to different schools of thought and to be precise, an individual's perception of the matter at hand. This has led to people seeing tomatoes in different lights, so to speak. Botanists think differently than the rest of us. Luckily for us, the botanists agree with one another, it's just the rest of us that seem to have opposing viewpoints. The poll above being a clear indicator.

In November, the US Congress classified pizza as a vegetable [1]. For what joy? Don't ask me, read the news piece yourself later. It's included as a reference. Even before this ruling, people wondered if the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable. But, around this period, when the ruling was passed, is when the debates actually began.

Pizzas have tomatoes on them, and since pizzas are vegetables, that makes tomatoes vegetables as well. Personally, I don't understand the reasoning here. But that's how this question rose up in the 21st century.

Don't get me wrong, I see why you may think the tomato is a vegetable, and if you read a bit further into this article I cover many reasons why it could be termed a vegetable, even though it is biologically a fruit, the reasoning of which is also covered.

It all blew up when the US congress decided to classify a pizza as a vegetable.
It all blew up when the US congress decided to classify a pizza as a vegetable. | Source

Arguments Favoring the Vegetable School of Thought

At the time of editing this article, around 36% of the people have come here thinking that the tomato is a vegetable. The reasoning for this include:

  1. Cooking habits - Tomatoes are used throughout the world, right from Asia to South America, Australia to North America, and of course Europe; the land where the pizza originated. When it comes to food, tomatoes in most cases are not being consumed in the traditional way of a fruit. I'm sure we can all agree on this point. It's no surprise that people would then tend to place the tomato into the vegetable category.
  2. Tomato sauce and ketchup - Fruits are either consumed whole or are juiced. You don't really find orange ketchup on the supermarket shelves. It's likely that this exists somewhere, but it's not the norm.
  3. Grocery store setup - Since tomatoes are primarily used in cooking, grocery stores tend to place them in the vegetable section. This is a huge factor that has played a role in favor of this argument.

Other Reasons: Thanks to My Readers

  • Horticulturally speaking, the tomato is a non-woody annual. Therefore it must be a vegetable. You may have realized, most fruits grow on trees that have a solid wooden stem, but not the tomato. The commenter also went a step further and said that s/he has no idea why the watermelon (also a non-woody annual) is not classified as a vegetable.
  • The tomato was classified as a vegetable on May 10, 1893, by the supreme court [2] on the pretext that it is used as a vegetable. And this was done for trade reasons to protect growers.

Knowledge is knowing that the tomato is a fruit, wisdom is the understanding that you shouldn't use it in a fruit salad.

The Tomato Is a Fruit. Here's Why:

Merriam-Webster defines a fruit as: "The usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant; especially: one having a sweet pulp associated with the seed."

Oxford defines a fruit as: "The seed-bearing structure of a plant, e.g. an acorn."

We now know for a fact that fruits are parts of the plant that arise from the pollination of a flower. Moreover, any part of the plant that houses the seeds or gives rise to new plants is considered the fruit.

Since tomatoes are developed only after a flower is pollinated and it also contains seeds and their housing (the pulpy portion we eat), we can come to a conclusion that the tomato is in fact, botanically a fruit.

Distinguishing Between Fruits and Vegetables at Home

Now that we've cleared the air on this topic, it could lead to similar questions on other food items. Let's take a look at a general classification which leaves no room for doubt:

Vegetables

Any part of the plant that doesn’t enclose a seed or that isn’t formed due to pollination of a flower is termed as a vegetable. Therefore you can now confidently say that roots (carrots, radish), bulbs (garlic, kohlrabi), flowers (cauliflower, broccoli), stems (leeks/spring onions) and leaves (lettuce, spinach) are vegetables and not fruits.

Fruits

Fruits have seeds (although some modern day varieties are seedless) and form due to the pollination of a flower. If artificial pollination is carried out, you get seedless fruits, but it's mainly due to artificial selection. Other examples of fruits that are commonly termed vegetables include legumes, pumpkin, cucumbers, and chilies.

To end this article on a friendly note, it's safe to say that the tomato is a fruit that is commonly used as a vegetable and no one is wrong, irrespective of what they call it because it's completely dependent on the school of thought you believe in.

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    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 3 years ago

      Thanks GypsyOwl, glad you liked it and it's so kind of you to leave such a kind comment.

    • GypsyOwl profile image

      Deb Bryan 3 years ago from Chico California

      Well done! I have read a dozen or more articles, over the years, about this tomato question. Your articles is by far the best. It is well written, informative, and kept my interest a lot longer than I expected it to.

    • profile image

      Tajdar ilahi 3 years ago

      It depends on who you ask, a botantist or horticulturist. For all practical purposes I say its a fruit. It's legal and technical mumbo-jumbo that claims it to be a vegetable.

      Botanically speaking, the tomato is a fruit and is classified as a berry. It is a fruit because it is a ripened mature ovary containing seed. One can confirm this by looking up both "fruit" and "tomato" in a dictionary. (No not the definition of old slang that says a "tomato" is an attractive woman). Things like peppers, eggplants and cucumbers are also fruits by this definition.

      Horticulturally speaking it is defined as a vegetable for two other reasons:

      1- it is a nonwoody annual (ok, what I want to know then why don't they say watermelons are vegetables?)

      2- it was classified this way in 1893 by the Supreme Court for trade reasons (imposing import taxes to protect growers)

    • Mickji profile image

      Mickji 3 years ago from between Italy and Switzerland, travelling around the world thanks to a little special object

      US Court really said that pizza is a vegetable? .... Come on, you cannot grow a pizza in the garden, so it is impossible for it to be a vegetable. It can only be a final product.

      However also fruits are used in coocking like tomatoes. You use them in sauces, use them cold or hot, together with other ingredients. Sometimes they are the main ingredient of a recipe. I'm not talking about cakes and all those sort of sweet things but also with the first and second dish. Example the roast with apples. In that case apples should be considered vegetables, instead they are not.

      You know a funny thing ? At coocking school they say that tomatoes are vegetables ( I'm talking about a high level school ).

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 4 years ago

      Hahaha! That's a good one, just added it to the hub. Glad you liked the article

    • mgt28 profile image

      mgt28 4 years ago

      Good writer. I came across something like: Knowledge is the understanding that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is the understanding not to use it in a fruit salad.

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 4 years ago

      Yes, the tomato is a fruit as you now know, but peas, pumpkins and green pepper are fruits as well as they're all formed due to pollination. Almost all the veggies that we consume are actually fruits, other than salad leaves and a few other things

    • profile image

      xolani 4 years ago

      I understand your defination but where do you put peas,pumpkin and green pepper because they come from the pollination of the flower? Are they also considered as fruits?

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 5 years ago

      Haha I never new fried green tomatoes taste good! Thanks for the comment & info :)

    • Insane Mundane profile image

      Insane Mundane 5 years ago from Earth

      Ha! This always strikes me as a funny subject...

      Well, I will say this: Whenever I pick a tomato when it is fairly green, slice it up into thick slices, batter 'em with flour & seasoning and fry those suckers (fried green tomatoes) in hot oil until golden brown, it sure seems like a tasty vegetable to me!

    • profile image

      nielsonratings 5 years ago

      Being that it is one of the 8 in v8, it MUST be a vegetable!

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 5 years ago

      Hi MiniCoop, You don't know how happy I am today as I've actually helped someone with their project :)

      Yup, I agree I had the same problem explaining it to people and hence I wrote about it myself and I did a bit of research to prove it too. Next time someone argues about it just direct them here - That would make them know they're scientifically wrong.

    • profile image

      minicoop2199 5 years ago

      People always say that the tomato is a veggie, but I tell them that in terms of botany, the tomato is actually a fruit. But nobody ever believes me. By the way this site really helped my daughter with her science project.

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 5 years ago

      Consisting of plants makes the most sense here. Thanks

    • Chuck Bluestein profile image

      Chuck Bluestein 5 years ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

      Actually the nuts and seeds are hard fruits. Strawberries are a fruit but have seeds in them and so does watermelon. Some grapes have seeds in them and it is good to chew and eat the seeds. Grapes are fruits (that includes the seeds in them). When plants have sex, their children are the fruit like the fruit of their loins. When talking about words like "vegetable", it is good to use a dictionary instead of your imagination.

      In one definition of vegetable you have animal, vegetable or mineral. Grape is a vegetable. Pig is an animal and salt is a mineral. Vegetable (Merriam-Webster):

      1

      a: of, relating to, constituting, or growing like plants b: consisting of plants : vegetational

      2

      : made from, obtained from, or containing plants or ?plant? products vegetable soup vegetable fat

      3

      : resembling or suggesting a plant (as in inertness or passivity)

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 5 years ago

      Yup, it's an interesting topic not just tomatoes but everything in general as well. Not all nuts are fruits - Cashew nuts are seeds :) You make a good point about nothing being a vegetable - will have to think it over. Thanks for the insightful comment jenubouka

    • profile image

      jenubouka 5 years ago

      Ah, the everlasting debate. In a scientific approach, there is no such term as a vegetable either. We eat plants and fruit. The edible plants bear leaves (lettuce), stems (celery), and roots (potatoes/beets), everything else is classified as a fruit even nuts, they are an oily fruit.

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 5 years ago

      Oh thanks I wanted to know about beans. Celery is a stalk? I thought it's a leaf and stalk not just the stalk. I have no clue as to what cilantro, kale, mizuna and Lollo Rosa are :) Googling them as I type. Thanks for the info

    • Chuck Bluestein profile image

      Chuck Bluestein 5 years ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

      Beans are considered in their own group as legumes. But there are hundreds of leafy greens that are not fruits like spinach, dill, frisee, arugula, radiccchio, romaine, oak leaf, Lollo Rosa, tango, red & green chard, mizuna, parsley, cilantro, kale, turnip greens, dandelion greens, celery greens, radish greens and more. Celery is a stalk.

      You also have the cabbage family vegetables (cruciferous vegetables) like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, asparagus, broccoli and others. There are also the tubers that are like roots like potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes and yucca that are popular in South America. All the grains are fruits. But bean sprouts are not fruits.

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 5 years ago

      Yup and what about beans? ;) Actually most of the common vegetables are fruits - It's really interesting if you actually think about it while cooking or grocery shopping. Thanks for the comment Chuck

    • Chuck Bluestein profile image

      Chuck Bluestein 5 years ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

      Other fruits that are not very sweet and so not regarded as fruits are cucumbers, peppers, eggplant and squash.

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 5 years ago

      Hi Eje, first and foremost thanks for commenting :) Yup I loved the statement posted by Rehana as well. Tomatoes are used as vegetables and that's the main reason most people think of them as one. But, now you know - they're fruits ;)

    • profile image

      Eje from Nigeria 5 years ago

      Wow! I'd always thought tomatoes were vegetables, perhaps because they are used that way until today when one of my friends on facebook shared the quote Rehana gave above. That got me thinking! Really useful hub. Thanks.

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 5 years ago

      Thanks Bard of Ely :)

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Excellent, informative and amusing hub! I have voted up!

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 5 years ago

      Haha Chuck thanks for adding a bit of humor to this hub :D

    • Chuck Bluestein profile image

      Chuck Bluestein 5 years ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

      All fruits are vegetables but not all vegetables are fruits. All sororities are fraternities but not all fraternities are sororities. All actresses are actors but not all actors are actresses. All waitresses are waiters but not all waiters are waitresses.

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 5 years ago

      Thanks Chuck that's good to hear from an ethnobotanical herbalist. I agree corn is surely all three, but that will create a great hub as well. Will keep that in mind when :)

    • Chuck Bluestein profile image

      Chuck Bluestein 5 years ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

      This is the kind of article that I like. Words do have multiple meanings including vegetable like animal, vegetable or mineral. So all fruits are vegetables and all grains are fruits. So you can find articles that explain that corn is all three. I am an ethnobotanical herbalist.

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 5 years ago

      Hi Rehana, great sentence thanks for adding it here :)

      Thanks for the comment and praises - I really appreciate it

    • Rehana Stormme profile image

      Rehana Stormme 5 years ago

      I think this could easily be one of the best articles I've ever come across on whether the tomato is a fruit or vegetable!

      For those of you who still aren't convinced about the tomato being a fruit or vegetable, there's one quote that would aptly sum it up, and that is:

      'Knowledge is knowing the tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting in your fruit salad.'

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 6 years ago

      Yup that's true :)

    • sbrina2write profile image

      sbrina2write 6 years ago from United States

      good, so many people do not realize there is a difference.

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 6 years ago

      Hi Sbrina2write, thanks for reading and commenting :)

      Yup I know it is a very common question, that's the reason I wrote this hub.

    • sbrina2write profile image

      sbrina2write 6 years ago from United States

      Very interesting I always thought that tomatoes was a vegetable until several years ago I learned it is part of the fruit family. Good Hub

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 6 years ago

      Ya it really doesn't matter if the tomato is a fruit or vegetable as it's still an important part in most of our dishes.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment :)

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 6 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Great article and a very good read. I enjoyed the transition, flow, and importantly the conclusion. Remember to smile and have fun, fun, fun , , ,

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 6 years ago

      Haha nice comparison with regards to stars and you've come up with a great conclusion - man's poetry and faith trump science :). Couldn't be put forth any better

      Thanks for the link - could really use some of those interesting facts in my future hubs.

      Thanks for taking the time to write this beautiful comment

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      You might find this site kind of interesting, and it's got squash on the home page. :)

      http://www.producepedia.com/vegetable.php?gclid=CI...

      As the chicken / egg question has kept people interested for a long time, the fruit / vegetable question will, too, at least for as long as the popular notion of a fruit is something sweet, as you say. It's sort of like looking up at the night sky. I see stars in a field of black, unlike physicists and astronomers who see stars in a field of matter that's so challenging to understand.

      That a plant is a fruit by virtue of sweetness and that stars exist in a field of black may be where man's poetry and faith trump science. :)

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 6 years ago

      No for them native English writers are writers from the US, Canada, UK or Aus.

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 6 years ago from Miami, US

      Well, aren't you a native English writer? Soon they will have to change their policies, as the world is becoming such a small place and people from all over are speaking English well.

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 6 years ago

      Oh wow :) thanks

      I wish the freelance clients on elance could see it that way. All they see and speak is " Native English writers"

      They don't know that people from other countries too speak English and write well.

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 6 years ago from Miami, US

      Maybe it just came naturally, but it is still really good, yes! the writing is good! Maybe you are just a seasoned writer.

    • lobobrandon profile image
      Author

      Brandon Lobo 6 years ago

      Haha tough question :) I've never had squash so I personally don't know. But from the way you put it it's a vegetable.

      Not sure though correct me if I'm wrong

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      You are right. This is a question almost as old as which came first, chicken or egg?

      Your explanation is spot-on. Fruits are those plants that encase seeds in one fashion or another. (It does seem strange to me to think of a sugar snap pea as a fruit.)

      So I pose this...squash blossoms are edible (and delicious), and once the blossom is fertilized and produces the squash, the squash is edible, too, but contains seeds. So, is the squash plant both a fruit and a vegetable? :)

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 6 years ago

      Hi guys this hub is noww43rd on google (I guess google.co.in) but yesterday it wasn't in the top 200. I was really surprised but it moved up quite a bit.. Yay!!

      The keyword is "tomato fruit or vegetable"

      I hope it goes all the way to the top page

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 6 years ago

      Hi Stephan :) great that you liked it. Ya I love tomatoes as well. I didn't try hard but is it really that good?

      Asking because 3 of you'll said its written well :)

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 6 years ago from Miami, US

      I like the way this is written. I can tell that you really tried here. Also, fruit or vegetable, tomatoes will always have a special place in my heart :)

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 6 years ago

      Hi Dexter glad that you liked the presentation :)

      Like always I give it my best when it comes to hubs.

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 6 years ago from United States

      Hi Lobobrandon! I liked the way you presented your information on the tomato. It is both educational and extremely interesting! I learned a lot about the tomato, even though I was aware that it is a fruit. Great job!

    • lobobrandon profile image
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      Brandon Lobo 6 years ago

      Hi Hollie thanks for stopping by; also for the vote :)

      Nice to get positive feedback from you :)

    • Hollie Thomas profile image

      Hollie Thomas 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi lobobrandon,

      I love the lively way you wrote this hub. It is both interesting and informative. Voted up.