Many of us commonly associate fruits with sweetness and vegetables with savoury flavours. However, the botanical classification doesn’t always align with this perception. Identifying whether a vegetable is, in fact, a fruit involves understanding its botanical origin.
Botanically speaking, a fruit is a structure that produces seeds internally. This process occurs within the ovary of a flowering plant. On the contrary, vegetables are derived from various plant parts like leaves, roots, and stems, excluding the fruits that blossom from the plant’s flowers.
This botanical perspective unveils a surprising truth—several foods we commonly label as vegetables are, in reality, fruits! So, the next time you ponder the distinction between fruits and vegetables, remember it’s not just about taste but the botanical processes taking place within the plant.
Fruit or Vegetable?
The question of whether something is a fruit or a vegetable may seem straightforward, but it’s more intricate than it appears. In botanical terms, a fruit is the part of a plant that encloses its seeds, while a vegetable encompasses any edible plant part except for its fruit and seeds.
However, this botanical clarity got tangled in 1893 when a Supreme Court case added confusion. A Manhattan wholesaler, John Nix & Co., disputed an imported vegetable tariff imposed on Caribbean tomatoes. Nix argued that tomatoes, botanically fruits, should not face the vegetable tariff. Despite the botanical truth, the court ruled against Nix, stating that tomatoes were treated as vegetables in common language and consumption habits.
Justice Horace Gray remarked, “Botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas. But in the common language of the people, whether sellers or consumers of provisions, all these are vegetables.”
Since then, the fruit-versus-vegetable confusion has persisted.
Does the distinction really matter? While some may say, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” many still care. For food enthusiasts, gardeners, language enthusiasts, and sticklers for accuracy, it does matter. In a world where many are disconnected from their food sources, understanding what we eat has never been more relevant.
To shed light on the matter, let’s turn to the insights of food scientist and author Harold McGee from his renowned book, “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” (2004 edition). McGee delves into the topic of “Fruits Used As Vegetables,” offering detailed explanations for each.
Fruits that You Think Are Vegetables
Tomatoes are the easiest to understand among fruits. Although many might think of them as vegetables, tomatoes are indeed fruits and quite a famous one. Originally, they were bitter fruits found in the coastal deserts of South America, millions of years ago. As time passed, sweeter varieties developed and gained preference, transforming into the delicious tomatoes we enjoy today. Nowadays, these versatile fruits thrive globally, showcasing a range of colours and sizes.
Also Read: What is Vegetarianism?
Cucumbers belong to the cucurbit family, like pumpkins and squash. They’re quite popular, so let’s talk about them separately. These salad ingredients come in various types. Some are firm and bitter, others have tender skin with a mild sweetness, and some are great for pickling. Despite their taste, it’s important to note that cucumbers are technically fruits, not vegetables.
3. Sweet Peppers, Chilli, and Capsicum
Sweet bell peppers, chillies, and capsicums all belong to the same family. Capsicums are like berries with seeds inside. Interesting fact: Columbus named them ‘peppers’ because their spiciness reminded him of black pepper. The Aztecs originally called them chilli. Peppers come in different types, ranging from extremely spicy to the sweet ones we like in salads. It’s surprising, but they’re actually fruits, not vegetables.
4. Pumpkin and Squash
Pumpkin and squash belong to the cucurbit family, which also includes winter squash, summer squash, courgette/zucchini, cucumber, gherkin, and melon. These are like a bunch of siblings with various characteristics. These ‘fruits’ come from the flowers of a plant that looks like a vine and can either crawl on the ground or climb up a trellis.
It’s like they’re family members growing in different ways but still connected. There are lots of different kinds of pumpkins and squash, each with its own special features. Some like to spread out on the ground, while others prefer to climb up high. So, it’s a big family with lots of choices and each one has its own story to tell!
Originally from the Eastern Mediterranean region, olives are indeed fruits! Surprisingly, freshly picked olives are extremely bitter. To make them enjoyable, they must undergo a curing process using water or brine made of salt and water, or salt, vinegar, and water, or just salt alone. This curing method is essential to eliminate the bitterness-causing oleuropein compound, transforming olives into delicious treats. It’s interesting to note that olives are fruits, not vegetables.
Whether you call it aubergine or eggplant depends on where you are in the world. Despite being commonly known for its dark purple colour, the eggplant is actually a fruit. It comes in various shapes, sizes, and colours beyond the familiar purple hue. One popular use of eggplant is in the Middle Eastern dip called baba ganoush.
Its meaty-like texture also makes it a great substitute for meat in various dishes. With its versatility and range of varieties, eggplant adds a unique touch to culinary creations around the globe.
7. Sweet Corn
I recently discovered something surprising about sweet corn – it’s actually a fruit! Each small ‘grain’ on the corn cob is considered a fruit. Sweet corn usually has a yellow color, but it can also be found in white, blue, red, and green varieties.
It’s interesting to think of sweet corn in a new way. We often see it as a tasty vegetable, but the tiny grains on the cob are actually fruits. This makes sweet corn unique, as we usually associate fruits with things like apples or berries. The variety of colours sweet corn comes in adds to its appeal. Not only is it delicious, but it also brings a burst of colour to our plates.
Next time you enjoy a serving of sweet corn, remember that you’re indulging in a fruity treat with each bite. It’s fascinating how nature surprises us with its classifications, turning a common vegetable into a collection of tiny, edible fruits.
Also Read: 40 Flowers You Can Eat
Avocado, a beloved creamy fruit, hails from Central America and belongs to the laurel family. Surprisingly, its initial name, ‘ahuacatl,’ derived from an Aztec language, sounds quite like the Spanish term ‘aguacate’ for avocado. Interestingly, ‘ahuacatl’ translates to ‘testicle’ in reference to the fruit’s shape, resembling that of the male anatomy.
The avocado’s rich and creamy texture makes it a favourite among many. Originating in Central America, this fruit is a member of the laurel family. Surprisingly, its original name, ‘ahuacatl,’ comes from an Aztec language and sounds similar to the Spanish word ‘aguacate.’ Interestingly, ‘ahuacatl’ means ‘testicle,’ a name given to the fruit due to its shape.
9. Green Bean
Green beans might not seem like fruits, but they actually come from the flowers of bean plants. Most of us enjoy eating the young pods with their immature beans, whether steamed, sautéed, or even raw. However, if the beans are allowed to mature, we can discover high-protein, hard beans like black beans or pinto beans by cracking open the pods. These beans have the advantage of being able to be stored for long periods.
This category also includes mangetout, which produces flat pea pods, as well as pea pods and runner beans. So, next time you enjoy these tasty green treats, remember that you’re not just savouring vegetables – you’re indulging in the world of unique and diverse green bean fruits.
Other Fruits That Are Used As Vegetables
Other fruits that are often used as vegetables include, tomatillos, bitter gourds, chayote, peas, and okra are examples of such fruits.
Tomatillos are small, green fruits with a husks that are commonly used in sauces and salsa. Bitter gourds, known for their bitter taste, are used in various dishes and are believed to have health benefits. Chayote, a green, wrinkled fruit, is versatile and can be cooked in different ways, resembling the taste and texture of vegetables.
Peas, though commonly thought of as vegetables, are botanically classified as fruits. They are widely used in various cuisines and add a sweet flavour to dishes. Okra, another fruit used as a vegetable, is often used in soups and stews for its unique texture and flavour.
These fruits, when used in savoury dishes, showcase their versatility, blurring the line between fruits and vegetables in culinary practices.