You say tomato is a fruit. Your friend claims tomato is a vegetable. Who is right? Both of you! Here’s the answer to whether a tomato is a fruit and a look at the botanical and culinary difference between fruits and vegetables.
Tl;dr: A tomato is a fruit, but it is usually considered a vegetable.
Is Tomato a Fruit?
Whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable depends on your reference.
- In the broadest sense, all edible plant parts are vegetables. This include fruits and even non-plants, like mushrooms and seaweed. So, a tomato is a vegetable.
- Under the botanical definition, a tomato is a fruit because it comes from the mature ovary of the plant.
- In cooking, a tomato usually is considered a vegetable because it is not very sweet and isn’t traditionally suitable for dessert.
- In 1893, the US Supreme Court ruled a tomato is a vegetable and not a fruit. This was for taxation purposes and the group acknowledged tomatoes are botanically fruit.
A Broad Definition of a Vegetable
If you play the game “20 Questions,” a common starting question explores whether the item is animal, vegetable, or mineral. It’s a “mineral” if it’s inorganic. If it is alive, moves, and lacks a cell wall, it’s an animal. If it’s not an animal, it’s vegetable.
The broad definition of a vegetable is an edible plant or portion of a plant. Mushrooms (fungi) and seaweed (algae) technically are not plants, but they often get included as vegetables. Fruit, grains, nuts, and seeds are also all vegetables.
Botanical Difference Between Fruits and Vegetables
But, botanists classify edible plants into groups. A fruit is the edible part of the mature ovary of a flowering plant. The ovary is the part that produces seeds. Under this definition, fruits include flowers, sepals, seeds, and the coverings around seeds. Botanically speaking, fruits include apples, oranges, grapes, and melons. Also, fruits include corn, rice, and wheat (seeds); nuts (seeds); broccoli and cauliflower (immature flowers); tomatoes, peppers, eggplant (berries).
There are different types of fruits. For example, here is a table of common categories of fruits, with examples:
|Type of Fruit||Examples|
|Simple dry fruit||cereal grains (rice), coconut, legumes (pea, bean), nuts (hazelnut), seeds (sunflower seeds)|
|Simple fleshy fruit||stone fruit, aggregate fruit, true berry|
|Stone fruit (drupe)||peach, cherry|
|Aggregate fruit||raspberry, strawberry|
|Pome||apple, pear, quince|
|True berry||cucumber, banana, chili pepper, eggplant, tomato, watermelon, pumpkin, orange|
|Multiple fruit||fig, pineapple, mulberry|
Practice identifying and classifying different fruits and vegetables.
Culinary Difference Between Fruits and Vegetables
The culinary arts views fruits and vegetables somewhat differently. In cooking, fruits are mainly sweet or sour, while vegetables are more savory. Even though corn, peas, cucumbers, and tomatoes are technically fruits, we group them as vegetables because of their flavor profile.
For example, here are some fruits that cooks typically classify as vegetables:
Meanwhile, these foods are vegetables, no matter how you slice them:
- Sweet potatoes
However you define them, fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Aune, D.; Giovannucci, E., et al. (2017). “Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease”. International Journal of Epidemiology. 46 (3): 1029–1056. doi:10.1093/ije/dyw319
- Esau, K. (1977). Anatomy of Seed Plants. New York: John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 0-471-24520-8.
- Lewis, Robert A. (2002). CRC Dictionary of Agricultural Sciences. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8493-2327-0.
- Mauseth, James D. (2003). Botany: An Introduction to Plant Biology. Jones and Bartlett. ISBN 978-0-7637-2134-3.