Fruits vs. Vegetables

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it on a fruit salad.

A few days ago we visited a favorite BBQ restaurant with family members who stopped by to visit on their way back to the Midwest.   Like most  restaurants that serve up Southern specialties, you would be hard-pressed to find anything even remotely healthy on the menu.  But what’s a little heart disease when the trade-off is the best BBQ, mac & cheese, and potato salad around.  Even  food that has potential to be good for you (ie, “greens”, a term I’d never even heard before moving south) has likely been doused with pig juice and butter.
Somehow, in the way round-about conversations seem to go,  a question was raised:  What’s the difference between a fruit and a vegetable?   If my friend Kim Foglia, the science teacher who inspired my blog, was around, I’m sure she’d know the answer.   However, the 7 of us, in spite of having  well over 100 combined years of education, could not figure it out.   We knew factoids such as a tomato is a fruit and corn is a grain, but none of us actually knew what, specifically,defines a fruit or a vegetable.
We came up with guesses involving seeds, and parts of the plant, and how they reproduce, but none of it seemed quite right.  Perhaps the best observation was from the youngest family member, our daughter Anna,  who stated, “If I like it, its probably a fruit and not a vegetable.”    Turns out that definition was probably as good as any.  Like most conversations and debates these days, we eventually decided to stop using our brains and instead put into action one of the many Smart phones dining with us that evening.

No question left unanswered with instant Google access

Droids, Iphones and their ilk have, in my opinion,  unfortunately replaced the debates, questions, ideas and discussions of “the old days” (2010 for our family)    but that’s another topic.     Out came the phone, and the magic Google oracle appeared.     “Oh great Google God,” we asked……”What IS the difference between a fruit and a vegetable, anyway?”

It turns out even Google was a little stymied by this question.   There were lots of instances where others had asked this question, and had gotten various responses and disagreements.    Even the valedictorian of Google, Wikipedia couldn’t really make up its mind.    The “seed” response was popular, as was  a fruit being “any edible part of a plant with a sweet flavor  whereas vegetables have a savory  flavor.  I’m sorry, but there is not a soul on this Earth who can convince me brussel sprouts are savory, unless savory is a synonym for “BLECH.”

Reproductive properties are apparently important for fruit definitions:   a fruit is the ovary or womb of a plant, containing the seeds.  When a Mommy and Daddy fruit love each other very much and are way, way older than you and able to support a family and are using safe methods,  then the Daddy fruit uses its special fruit parts that only boy plants have and the Mommy part has special parts that only ladies have (but which you should never show anyone)……oh, never mind, just go watch some HBO.

So it seems like “fruit” is easy to define, but vegetables not so much.   The dictionary defines a vegetable as:   The edible part of a plant, such as the root of the beet, the leaf of spinach, or the flower buds of broccoli or cauliflower.

So in other words, because a tomato is an edible part of a plant and is also a “ripened ovary that contains seeds”   that makes it a fruit AND a vegetable.   But wait a minute…..doesn’t that then also apply to apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries, etc???  They are also edible parts of plants that contain seeds.   That doesn’t  make sense.     Someone else suggested that the difference is “generally determined by the amount of Vitamin C content.”    I think that person needs to get a Smart phone.

Finally, we found some responses from actual Botanists.   It seems that botanists don’t even really like the word vegetable.   Kind of like how psychologists don’t like the word “crazy,” a word which also has no technical definition.

One says:

“Botanists generally don’t use the word vegetable to mean a plant or even a plant part. The basic parts are roots, stems, leaves flowers/fruit/seeds. Vegetable is a grocery store term: Tomatoes are called vegetables to distinguish them from the sweeter fruits like peaches. Carrots are called vegetables but the part we eat is of course a root.” 
and another says:

“Vegetable is a culinary term. Its definition has no scientific value and is somewhat arbitrary and subjective. All parts of herbaceous plants eaten as food by humans, whole or in part, are generally considered vegetables. Mushrooms, though belonging to the biological kingdom, fungi, are also commonly considered vegetables…Since ‘vegetable’ is not a botanical term, there is no contradiction in referring to a plant part as a fruit while also being considered a vegetable. Given this general rule of thumb, vegetables can include leaves (lettuce), stems (asparagus), roots (carrots), flowers (broccoli), bulbs (garlic), seeds (peas and beans) and of course the botanical fruits like cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, and capsicums.”(

So that solves it.   Vegetables don’t even exist.   It is simply a made-up word to make plants sound a little more appetizing.    The next time someone tells you to eat more vegetables you can safely respond that vegetables are imaginary and to do so would make you “crazy”.

1 Comment

Filed under New Learning

One response to “Fruits vs. Vegetables

  1. Kim

    Curious which barbecue joint is your family’s favorite. John is partial to Shealy’s and we’ve even imported their sauce north of the Mason-Dixon line (probably in violation of some Southern law!) 😉

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