The Tomato: Fruit or Vegetable?

Is the tomato a fruit or vegetable?

The Tomato: is it a fruit or vegetable? With Tomato Dirt

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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