It is one of the general botanical questions most often heard among people. It may seem obvious to many that the tomato has much more in common with lettuce or cauliflower than with an apple or a banana, but is this really the case? Thus, there are those who firmly believe that it is a vegetable, since we put it together with vegetables, but others disagree and consider it fruit. What does the point of view of shopping say in the day to day and what does science think?
Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable? – the answer
For the most impatient, here is a quick answer: the tomato is a fruit . Why then in supermarkets is it in the vegetable section, next to things like cucumbers or pumpkins? Well, cucumbers and squash, for example, are also fruits, botanically speaking at least. A little further down we will talk about the definitions and differences between fruit and vegetables to be able to clarify it properly, but for now, to explain it briefly, it is enough to say that the tomato is the fruit of the plants of the genus Solanum , so it is simply a fruit. because it forms the fruit of the plant .
Why do we say that the tomato is a vegetable if it is a fruit
To clarify this issue further, it must be taken into account that the origin of all this discussion about whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable dates back to the end of the 19th century, specifically to the year 1886. John Nix, a merchant who came from India, arrived at the port of New York to find that Edward Hedden, customs officer, demanded the newly approved tax of 10% that had to be applied to all imported vegetables.
Neither short nor lazy, John Nix quickly retorted that his tomatoes were tax-free, claiming that the tomato is not a vegetable, but clearly a fruit. The discussion, a priori simple, ended in the courts, and three years later the Supreme Court issued a ruling declaring the tomato as a vegetable, therefore subject to the tariff. Judge Justice Horace Gray recognized then that, although tomatoes are botanically a fruit, and therefore fruit, in the common use of language they are not considered that way, since they are served in salads or dinners, and not as dessert, which is the culinary use that was given to fruits.
Thus, the precedent was set that distinguished the botanical classification of the tomato , from the culinary or popular when making the purchase. Because of this, the discussion continues to this day.
To begin with, it is important to give the basic definitions of what is currently considered a fruit or a vegetable. It should be said that neither of these terms is a botanical technical concept, especially that of vegetable, but both have a generalized definition.
- On the one hand, a fruit is the edible part of the fruit of any plant. It does not matter if it is a herbaceous, a shrub or a tree, if it is a mature ovary that contains the seeds of the plant and pulp and is edible, it is considered a fruit. The fruit always fulfills a reproductive function in the plant, although modern agriculture has managed to produce some varieties without seeds or with almost imperceptible immature seeds.
- On the other hand, a vegetable is an edible part of a plant, except for the fruit , which humans consume. As you can see, it is a very general description, which covers both those species from which we consume the leaves, as well as those from which we eat their stems, flowers, roots, bulbs or tubers.
With this in mind, there are a host of garden produce commonly considered vegetables that are actually fruits, at least in the botanical and more formal sense of the word.
Despite all that has been said, it is not so easy to affirm unequivocally that the tomato is a fruit and not a vegetable. The RAE, for example, mentions in its definition of fruit that these are sweet-tasting fruits. Although there are tomato varieties with a sweeter taste than others, it is evident that their level of sweetness is not comparable to that of an orange or a pineapple, so it is easy to put it in the sack of vegetables. And it is true that the tomato is neither sweet nor salty: it is umami, a flavor that is increasingly present in today’s gastronomy.
But, returning to the question of whether the tomato is a vegetable or not , the plants that we grow in gardens and that are consumed as food are generally considered a vegetable, with the exception of fruits and cereals. Since we only consume the fruit of the tomato, thus allowing the plant to continue generating more food, it is not technically considered a vegetable either , despite being grown in orchards around the world. Although, as we all know, this does not prevent the tomato from culinary tending to share a group with other fruits such as cucumbers or peppers, which are considered vegetables because of the uses they are given in food.