Is Tomato a Fruit or a Vegetable?

It's an unnecessary debate.

A Tomato. NaturalPolad Gasimov/Shutterstock

Tomatoes are lovely additions to soups, salads, and eggs, or eaten on their own. There are also so many different kinds of tomatoes, too. Whether you opt for cherry, grape, or another tomato type, they’re all still fruit—right? The answer to the question “is tomato a fruit or a vegetable?” depends on who you ask.

Is tomato a fruit or a vegetable?

Farmers, chefs, and nutritionists might all have different answers to this question. Tomatoes fit the scientific definition of fruit as they form from a flower and contain seeds. So botanically, tomatoes are fruit according to both the USDA and Merriam Webster Dictionary. Want to know when to buy which produce? This infographic shows when every fruit and vegetable is in season.

Why are tomatoes fruit?

Before things get too dicey, you need to know the definition of fruit, also: “the usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant; especially one having a sweet pulp,” per Merriam Webster. The tomato plant—which is different from tomatoes themselves—is a seed plant that grows the red, edible tomatoes people know and love. Although tomatoes aren’t known for being as sweet as other fruit, they’re not as bitter as some vegetables. With this definition in mind, everything from peppers to cucumbers are also fruit, while carrots and potatoes are not.

Why are tomatoes vegetables?

A vegetable can be: “a usually herbaceous plant grown for an edible part that is usually eaten as part of a meal,” according to Merriam Webster Dictionary. This means vegetables include all plant parts like roots, leaves, and stems while fruit does not. So things like beets, spinach, and broccoli are all vegetables. You might not love all fruits and vegetables, but you should eat them anyway because these 8 things happen to your body when you don’t eat enough of them.

Even with these definitions, some people still claim tomatoes are vegetables—and they’re not wrong. This is because a “vegetable” is a kind of catch-all term that leaves room for interpretation when it comes to cooking and dining. So, is tomato a fruit or a vegetable? Some chefs may cook or use tomatoes as a savory element, but others might use them for their refreshing sweetness. Still, it’s generally eaten and prepared like a vegetable, not a fruit. These veggie-inspired recipes could be an easy way to include more tomatoes and fresh ingredients in your diet.

There’s a business reason for calling tomatoes fruits, too. In 1893, Congress passed a tariff act putting a 10 percent tax on whole vegetables. So, to avoid paying the fee, merchants claimed that tomatoes are fruit. A decision made by the Supreme Court for the case agrees that tomatoes should be classified as a vegetable instead of a fruit for “purposes of trade and commerce” since people eat them like vegetables, reports. This means, legally speaking, tomatoes are vegetables.

Tomatoes are fruits and vegetables

Is tomato a fruit or a vegetable is a non-issue. The bottom line is that tomatoes are both fruits and vegetables—fruits by science and vegetables by cooking tradition. No matter what you want to call them, they’re a healthy option filled with fiber, vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants. In fact, cooking tomatoes actually make them even healthier, which is just one of 20 food facts that could change the way you eat.

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Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.