Is a Tomato a Fruit or a Vegetable (Views of 6 Industries)

Updated on March 27, 2018
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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.

I say “toh-mah-toe”, you may say “toe-may-toe”. I call it a fruit, you probably call it a vegetable. Which one is it? Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable? Could it be both? I like to refer to this as Shrodinger’s tomato, as the tomato can be both a fruit and a vegetable, depending on the way you look at it. Much like the famous Schrodinger's cat experiment.

To answer this question, we're going to take a look at things from different professional perspectives, one by one. But if you need a quick answer refer to the table below.

Is a Tomato Technically a Fruit or a Vegetable?

Profession
What Do They Call It?
The Reason
Chefs
Vegetable
Savory not sweet
Nutritionists
Vegetable
Low in fructose
Botanists
Fruit
Develops from the ovaries of the plant
Horticulturists
Vegetable
Plant is a non-woody annual
Canning Industry
Fruit
Acidic enough to process in a water bath
Traders
Vegetable
US Supreme court [1] and the EU [2] say so
The characterization of the tomato as a fruit or vegetable based on profession

If Someone Asks You This Question Right Now...

What Would You Say?

See results

Chefs Say the Tomato Is a Vegetable

Tomatoes are not as sweet as apples, pineapples, pears, papayas or even bananas. No matter how you see it, from all logical perspectives these sweet plant products are fruits. Tomatoes, on the other hand, have a savory taste, and as such, are usually used in savory dishes. They are often found in salads and are sometimes also a part of the main course in a meal, albeit, in different ways across the globe. Typically "fruits" are never a part of the main course. They are almost always included in desserts. But, you would never dice some tomatoes and add them to your ice-cream, would you?

To conclude this argument from the chef's perspective, tomatoes are vegetables because they have a savory taste. Since most people across the globe can associate themselves with food more than biology, it is natural for the tomato to be widely termed as a vegetable. This is evident from a stroll through our supermarkets where tomatoes are sold in the vegetable section.

But, before you leave this page thinking you've got your answer, you should also know that the Rhubarb is considered a fruit in the kitchen because it's sweet. Do you accept the chefs' argument that the tomato is a vegetable?

Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? In the culinary sense, the Rhubarb is a fruit, but the tomato is a vegetable. Botanists can't take this anymore!
Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? In the culinary sense, the Rhubarb is a fruit, but the tomato is a vegetable. Botanists can't take this anymore! | Source

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

— Miles Klington

Nutritionists Argue That It Is a Vegetable

From the nutritional point of view, vegetables generally contain higher amounts of micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, whereas fruits contain higher quantities of macronutrients. Macronutrients are energy giving and include fruit sugars (fructose), carbohydrates, fats, and proteins [3].

If you ask a nutritionist, for a one-word answer on what separates a fruit from a vegetable, they are going to say "fructose". To put things into perspective, a medium, whole ripe tomato contains around 1.7 g of fructose [4] and a medium-sized apple, approximately 3 inches in diameter contains 11 g of fructose [5]. This relatively low amount of fructose content is the reason nutritionists argue that the tomato is a vegetable.

Nutritionists would never add tomatoes to a healthy serving of fresh fruits.
Nutritionists would never add tomatoes to a healthy serving of fresh fruits. | Source

The Tomato Is Botanically a Fruit

Merriam-Webster [6] defines a fruit as: "The usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant; especially: one having a sweet pulp associated with the seed."

Oxford [7] defines a fruit as: "The sweet and fleshy product of a tree or other plant that contains seed and can be eaten as food."

Even though these definitions are not wrong, they are not botanically accurate. The fruit of a plant is that fleshy or dry entity which develops on the fertilization of the ovary of a flower and contains seeds. Thus, by definition, the tomato is botanically a fruit. Through this article, I have been and will continue to discuss this topic without any bias. But I must add, that I agree with the botanists. If someone were to ask me what I think about this topic, I would definitely say the tomato is a fruit.

As you see above, I've bolded the term "contains seeds". Today, there are plenty of seedless fruits on the market. Technically, these should not be called fruits, but because they are in all other ways identical to their seed-bearing counterparts, even the seedless varieties are termed fruits. Plants bearing seedless fruit cannot be germinated from seed, as the fruit itself is sterile (no seeds).

There are different methods used to grow seedless fruit, for instance, a seed-bearing plant is diagonally sliced on the stem and placed in a rooting hormone before it is planted. You can read more on this at Wonderpolis. If you want to learn to grow seedless watermelon at home, this article on Dengarden is really interesting.

Of the many people who argue that the tomato is a fruit, there is a handful that wonders whether the tomato is a berry. Yes, the tomato is, in fact, a berry. A berry is a fruit which has developed from a single ovary and has multiple seeds. Fun-fact: A banana is also a berry, and the strawberry isn't. Actually, the strawberry is in most part, not even a fruit. Check out the video below for more on this.

This Video May Change Your Perspective: Highly Recommended

Let's Not Forget the Humble Vegetable

While on the topic, you may be wondering what would be botanically considered a vegetable. Botany doesn't have a term ''vegetable" in its dictionary as the term is not used in biological taxonomy. The only way the terms botany and vegetable come together is through economic botany. From the aspects of an economic botanist, the tomato is a vegetable.

A vegetable in the English language, however, can be defined as any herbaceous edible part of the plant apart from the fruit, such as the leaves, stem, tubers, bulbs, and flowers. On a lighter note, I really like this definition by Rebecca Rupp:

Vegetables, traditionally, are the stuff kids push around on their plates and hide under their mashed potatoes

— Rebecca Rupp

Summing up This Confusing Section

I am sure that this section which discusses the categorization of the tomato botanically can be very confusing to most readers. Let me sum it up: Taking biology into consideration, the tomato bears seeds and is, therefore, a fruit. Biological classification does not have a definition for the term vegetable. Therefore, biologically speaking, the tomato can never be a vegetable.

Also, from a botanists point of view, the tomato on its own has no relevance. The tomato plant, however, is a fruit-bearing plant which propagates through the germination of fertilized seeds which develop from a fertilized ovary. So if you ask a botanist whether the tomato is a fruit or vegetable, they would say the tomato is a fruit.

Horticulturists Categorize It as a Vegetable

Horticulture is the science and art of growing fruits, vegetables, flowers, or ornamental plants. But, why do horticulturists classify the tomato as a vegetable? There are two reasons:

  1. Tomato plants are annual crops. Vegetables are plants that usually complete their life cycle in a year.
  2. Food that grows on herbaceous plants are vegetables and food that grows on woody plants are fruits.

Tomatoes in a greenhouse: A herbaceous annual.
Tomatoes in a greenhouse: A herbaceous annual. | Source

They Are Fruits in the Canning Industry

The tomato canning industry processes many different products such as tomato paste, ketchup, sauce, salsa, canned tomatoes, pizza sauce, etc. This list can go on. The canning industry processes fruits and vegetables in a different way. Fruits go through a process in a water bath, whereas vegetables go through a pressure cooker, termed water bath canning and pressure canning respectively [9]. Since tomatoes are acidic enough to process through a water bath, the home canning industry categorizes tomatoes as fruits.

They Are Vegetables for Trade Purposes

Both in the United States [1] and the EU [2], the raw tomato is classified as a vegetable for trade purposes. But, before you decide to use this reasoning in conversations, you should know that the law is not always smart. For instance, in November 2011 the US Congress classified the pizza as a vegetable, yes you read that right!

Why was this done? It was a move to keep the pizza and french fries on school lunch lines in opposition to the Obama administration's push to make school lunches healthier. Read the news article for details.

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

The Probable Origin of This Debate

In 1886, John Nix a produce importer imported a lot of tomatoes to the Port of New York and the customs official of the time, Edward Hedden demanded that he pay a tax of 10% in accordance with an 1883 Tariff Act which demanded import duty on foreign vegetables. However, Nix, refused to do so, stating that tomatoes are fruits and not vegetables. This matter eventually made it to the United States Supreme Court and in 1893, the Supreme Court in the Nix v Hedden case ruled that the tomato must be classified as a vegetable and not a fruit. The Court upheld this decision on the fact that the Tariff Act of 1883 used the ordinary meaning of the words fruit and vegetable rather than the botanical meaning [1].

The Tariff of 1833 was abandoned by the US government in favor of the new Black Tariff of 1842 which was eventually replaced by the Walker Tariff. But, even today the fresh tomato is classified as a vegetable for all trade purposes.

Despite the decision by the US Supreme Court, many states in the US have decided to play around with the terminology of the tomato to suit local needs, for instance:

  • Arkansas: The tomato is the state fruit and vegetable.
  • Ohio: The tomato is the sate vegetable.
  • Tennessee: The tomato is the state fruit.

Just to point out how silly this is outside the trade environment, the watermelon is the state vegetable of Oklahoma.

In Conclusion...

Governments and courtrooms have been arguing on this topic for centuries, literally. With the decision by the US Congress ruling that the pizza is a vegetable, the debate on whether the tomato is a fruit or vegetable kicked off again. People must realize that words are defined by lexicographers and how we use them changes across professions. After reading this article you would now be able to use the right terminology when dealing with people depending on the industry you're talking about.

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Brandon Lobo

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      • lobobrandon profile image
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        Brandon Lobo 4 weeks ago

        Voice going hoarse with tomatoes, you must really love them. Yes, they are acidic to some extent, really high considering it is a fruit. I still stand by botany, saying that it is a fruit. But I do see why it is considered a vegetable too. Berries are tasty, aren't they?

      • Glenn Stok profile image

        Glenn Stok 4 weeks ago from Long Island, NY

        Shrodinger’s tomato! I love that analogy! I once read your other article about when is the best time to eat fruit, so this is a great follow up.

        The real reason I became interested in this article is because I recently had a problem with becoming hoarse. I went to an ENT doctor who said I should stay away from tomatoes because I was eating too many and they are acidic. I didn’t know that, but you confirmed it in your table—as considered by the canning industry.

        I found your entire article extremely educational. It’s interesting how each profession considered tomatoes to be either fruits or vegetables based on their own requirements and perspectives.

        So, is it a fruit or a vegetable? I accept both arguments, although biological definition leans towards being a fruit, as you explained. But you also made it clear that we can consider it as a berry. Now I’m hungry.

      • 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 4 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 6 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 6 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 6 years ago

        Consisting of plants makes the most sense here. Thanks

      • Chuck Bluestein profile image

        Chuck Bluestein 6 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 6 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 6 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 6 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 6 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 6 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 6 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 6 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 6 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 6 years ago

        Thanks Bard of Ely :)

      • Bard of Ely profile image

        Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

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

      • lobobrandon profile image
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        Brandon Lobo 6 years ago

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

      • Chuck Bluestein profile image

        Chuck Bluestein 6 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 6 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 6 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 6 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 6 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
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        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
        Author

        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.

      working