Tomato: Fruit Or Vegetable?

The question comes up time and again: Is the tomato actually a fruit, or a vegetable? We take a closer look at the debate.

Apr 09, 2021 02:22 pm
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From a botanical perspective, tomatoes are berries - but does that make them a fruit?

Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable? There is quite a lot of confusion regarding the assignment of Solanum lycopersicum. Those who cultivate this heat-loving plant from the nightshade family (Solanaceae) in the greenhouse, outdoors or in pots on the balcony or patio, generally refer to the tomato as a vegetable. Until into the 18th century, the tomato was still even considered a decorative plant. In 1778, it appeared under the vegetable section in a French company’s seed catalog. But is this classification correct? Isn’t the tomato more of a fruit?

Is the tomato a fruit?

There are various definitions for differentiating between fruits and vegetables. From a botanist’s perspective, the tomato is very clearly a fruit, as it protrudes from a pollinated flower. By implication we can conclude that tomatoes are not vegetables, as vegetables include all other edible plant parts. This could be, for example, flowers, leaves (spinach) or bulbs (potatoes). Moreover, tomato fruits are berries - from a botanical perspective. According to this perspective we could actually assume that the tomato is a fruit.

However, there are some definitions which would classify tomatoes as vegetables. In gardening, we refer to fruit if the fruit originates from woody plants such as trees or bushes. Tomatoes, on the other hand, are the fruit of herby plants - and therefore count as vegetables. In the scope of foodstuff definition, it depends on the vegetation cycle of the plants. We only refer to fruit if the plant bears fruit for many consecutive years. This is only the case with tomatoes in their native home - in our country they are generally cultivated annually and resown every year. So, according to this definition, tomatoes are a vegetable.

Unlike many fruit plants, tomatoes are generally cultivated annually
What other evidence is there that tomatoes are a vegetable?

The sugar content of the fruit is a further point in favor of classifying the tomato as a vegetable. 3.53 ounces of tomatoes only contain around 0.09 ounces of sugar. The sugar content is generally higher in fruits, meaning they generally taste sweeter. We also use tomatoes more like vegetables in terms of our cultivation habits. So the fruit can be used to prepare numerous hearty meals such as soups, casseroles or sauces that are refined with seasonings. Although, it is not essential to cook the fruit: Tomatoes also taste great raw in a salad. Conversely, this aspect speaks in favor of tomatoes as a fruit.

Summary: Tomatoes are a fruit

Ultimately, botanists refer to tomatoes as a fruiting vegetable. The edible fruit develops from the pollinated flowers of annually cultivated, herby kitchen plants. They are therefore not a fruit: Fruiting vegetables are classified with leaf, tuber, root, and bulb vegetables. There are some other fruits of heat-loving plants which are classified as fruiting vegetables along with tomatoes, including peppers, chilis, cucumbers, squashes, egg plants, and melons. Watermelons and sugar melons are therefore considered vegetables, even though they are sweeter tasting. But no matter how we end up classifying tomatoes: Ultimately, we each decide for ourselves on our favorite way to prepare this aromatic treasure - sometimes they even taste good in a fruit salad.

Are Tomatoes Fruits Or Vegetables?

Tomatoes are fruits as they develop from pollinated flowers. From a botanical perspective, tomatoes are not a fruit but a fruiting vegetable. These heat-loving nightshade plants are generally cultivated annually and resown every year, just like other vegetables.