MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Tomato…Fruit Or Vegetable?

Tomatoes have been called a super food for their many vitamins, nutrients, and health benefits. Many people consider tomatoes to be delicious, but do you consider a tomato to be a fruit or a vegetable?

Well, botanically, a fruit is defined as the part that develops from the fertilized ovary of a flower. Vegetables, on the other hand, are the edible parts of plants that aren’t fruits. So, by definition, tomatoes are fruits.

But botanists don’t necessarily have the last word. In 1893, the Supreme Court had to decide whether a tomato was a fruit or a vegetable after a produce importer incurred a 10% import tax on vegetables coming into New York’s Port Authority (which fruits didn’t get at that time). The importer argued for the botanical definition, but the judges disagreed, ruling that in the “common language of the people, whether sellers or consumers”, the tomato was a vegetable.

Nutritionists, in particular, like to categorize the tomato as a vegetable since it has hardly any fructose (a type of sugar), which is present in many fruits like apples & bananas. Meanwhile, due to their sweetness, fruits are also commonly classified by their ability to be incorporated into desserts (which is why we have apple pie & not Brussel sprout pie).

So, is the tomato a fruit? Botanically, yes. Nutritionally, no. And, if you’d prefer to stick with the legal definition, the tomato is not a fruit, but a vegetable. But it might also all come down to where you live: in 2003, Tennessee made the tomato the official state fruit, while New Jersey officially named the tomato as the official state vegetable in 2005. And then, there’s Arkansas, which played both sides of the fence when it declared the tomato as both the state fruit & the state vegetable.

Bottom line: the humble-yet-versatile tomato can be whatever you want it to be.

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via Twitter (@AndyWebbRadio), or shoot me an email at [email protected].