The Tomato: Fruit or Vegetable?
Is the tomato a fruit or vegetable?
It’s both … depending on your point of view. Here are the facts we’ve dug up.
Botanically, the tomato is a fruit
Scientists agree: a botanical ovary – a sac that contains egg cells (seeds) – is classified as a fruit.
The tomato perfectly fits the scientific definition of a fruit.
No way around it – the tomato is a sac and those are seeds bursting out of the crack its skin.
Legally, the tomato is a vegetable
So ruled the U.S. Supreme Court in 1893.
The case of Nix vs. Hedden (1893 raised the question of the tomato’s classification.
- At the time, tariffs were not charged on imported fruit – only on imported vegetables. A whopping 10% was levied, designed to protect the American farmer.
- A tomato importer named John Nix argued that a tomato was a fruit and therefore not subject to vegetable import duties. (He was gunning to collect some back taxes he paid under protest).
- The court heard definitions of “fruit” and “vegetable” and listened to testimony from two witnesses.
- The court ruled that the tomato was a vegetable in its function. It’s served in salads, soups, and main courses. Only if it was eaten in hand or in a dessert can it be classified as a fruit!
With that fateful stroke of a gavel, the tomato became a vegetable.
Fruit or vegetable? Bottom line.
Legal maneuvers confused matters. The Great Tomato Debate continues today.
Choose your side. Either way, you’re “right.”
Consider these additional points
- Cucumbers, squash, beans, and peas fit the botanical definition of fruit, too.
- In Robertson v. Salomon (1889), a similar suit brought before the U.S. Supreme Court, beans were classified as seeds rather than vegetables.
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