Tomatoes: fruit or veg?

The conversation at Fuel today was whether tomatoes are a fruit or vegetable. All sorts of theories were submitted by those of us standing around:

  • It’s got pips not seeds – it’s a fruit

  • It grows on a vine, not in the ground – it’s a fruit

  • You eat it for lunch, dinner etc, not as pudding – it’s a vegetable

  • It’s not sweet – it’s a vegetable (never mind that lemon’s are not sweet and they’re a fruit)

  • It’s in the same family as capsicums – it’s a vegetable

  • It’s in the vegetable section of the supermarket – it’s a vegetable

  • There’s something not so obvious about this – it’s a fruit.

And Wikipedia says … (something quite long and detailed…)

Botanically, a tomato is the ovary, together with its seeds, of a flowering plant: a fruit or, more precisely, a berry. However, the tomato is not as sweet as those foodstuffs usually called fruits and, from a culinary standpoint, it is typically served as part of a salad or main course of a meal, as are vegetables, rather than at dessert, as are fruits. As noted above, the term “vegetable” has no botanical meaning and is purely a culinary term.

This argument has had legal implications in the United States. In 1887, U.S. tariff laws that imposed a duty on vegetables but not on fruits caused the tomato’s status to become a matter of legal importance. The U.S. Supreme Court settled the controversy in 1893 by declaring that the tomato is a vegetable, based on the popular definition that classifies vegetables by use, that they are generally served with dinner and not dessert (Nix v. Hedden (149 U.S. 304)). The holding of the case applies only to the interpretation of the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883, and the court did not purport to reclassify the tomato for botanical or other purposes other than paying a tax under a tariff act.

So, it’s a fruit? Or a vegetable?


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