Let’s Settle the Tomato Fruit vs. Vegetable Debate Once and for All (Maybe)

But would you put it in a fruit salad...?


You’re walking through the grocery store, gathering all the necessary ingredients for your much-lauded weekly lasagna night. As you come to the end of your list, one item remains, a much-needed keystone to your planned evening of culinary excellence. Tomato sauce. Just as your eyes register those eleven words, the loudspeaker booms that the store will be closing in two minutes. And you have no idea what aisle you should head to.

But in this situation, you are in an alternate universe where you are unable to come up with either the words for “tomato” or “sauce.” You need to express to a member of the supermarket staff what you are looking for. But when you give the characteristics of the jarred, viscose liquid to a member of the customer service staff, you’re brought to an aisle lined end to end with jars of preserves. That’s because it’s darn near impossible to describe a tomato without making it sound like you’re describing a fruit.

And, depending on what camp you’re asking, naming a tomato as a fruit might just be correct. But you know what also would be correct? Naming it as a vegetable. That’s because the tomato is both.

If you ask a cook, a tomato is a vegetable, because vegetables tend to be used in more savory dishes and that tends to be the case for tomatoes. The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that nutritionists also prefer to put tomatoes in the vegetable category; just take a look at the food pyramid.

But if you were to ask a scientist, the answer is unequivocal: “Yes, of course, a tomato is a fruit, it has all the characteristics of a fruit—were you talking to that cook again about vegetable definitions?” (The previous statement has been lightly edited and entirely fabricated.) True fruits naturally contain the seeds of a plant (sometimes they are modified to be seedless, however) and are developed by the ovary at the base of the flower. The tomato is the fruit of the tomato plant.

The official scientific ruling is in favor of the fruit faction. If you really believe that a tomato is a fruit, try substituting apple juice for tomato juice in a Bloody Mary. You will not have fun. (Did you ever wonder why tomato juice tastes different on airplanes? This is why.)

[Source: Oxford Dictionaries]

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