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.

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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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