Tomato = Fruit?

To follow up on the previous is-a-burrito-actually-a-sandwich-debate, here we go with another legal matter (and yes, Mr. Food’s journey through law school has rubbed off on me a bit!).

In today’s installment: is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?

On the vegetable side we have any kid who has ever refused to eat a tomato based solely on its associations with other-salad-foods-like-the-dreaded-spinach-leaf. Clearly it’s a VEGETABLE because normal little kids don’t want to eat it. That is, unless it is disguised as pizza sauce or ketchup (head’s up to brother J for this one!). It’s usually eaten as a part of a savory course, rarely does it appear in desserts, so vegetable all the way, right? Maybe.

Now, anyone who’s ever taken high school bio knows that technically the answer is FRUIT. I mean, those guys are filled with visible seeds, right! Biologically and botanically, that makes it a fruit. Culinarily, as well, one could argue that tomatoes are fruits. Some folks (Mr. Food, namely) like to sprinkle theirs with a bit of sugar or just eat them whole, a la apple/pear/peach, actions typically taken with fruits, not vegetables.

So, fruit or vegetable? Something fun to eat or something to be avoided (old beliefs that tomatoes were poisonous notwithstanding)? Does it actually matter to the day-to-day eaters of the world? Probably not, but the conclusion to this debate does have legal implications. The legal case brought about by the Tariff Act of 1883 was set to decide whether tomatoes should be classified as fruits (not taxed) or vegetables (taxed). The court found that, though tomatoes are still botanically a fruit, they are legally for taxable purposes, a vegetable! A vegetable! All the botanists are rolling in their graves and the stage is set for the is-a-peanut-a-nut-or-a-legume debate. But that, we are not ever going to get into (sorry, Dad).

In the end I accept the legal findings of the court a century ago but in my biologist’s heart I know that the tomato will always be a fruit to me. So there.

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2 responses to “Tomato = Fruit?

  1. Wow, Mr. Food did rub off on your, even going as far as siting an act from 1883. Impressive.

  2. And cucumber = fruit!

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