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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.

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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 2 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 2 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 2 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
      Author

      Brandon Lobo 3 years ago

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

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