Is a tomato a fruit? Or a vegetable? Yes. And yes.

I’m not sure why this is the question that just won’t die, but I got it again at a event where I was speaking recently, so I am hereby going to issue the final, official, definitive ruling on the age-old question: Is a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable?

The answer is:…

(Drum roll please)

Both!

Fruit. And Vegetable. At the same time.
Fruit. And Vegetable. At the same time.

That’s right, folks. Vegetable and fruit are not mutually exclusive categories! Fruit is a technical, botanical term like leaf and petiole and petal which refers to a specific part of a plant. Vegetable is a cultural term referring to parts of plants that we eat.

In other words: lettuce is a leaf and a vegetable, celery is a petiole and a vegetable, broccoli is a flower bud and a vegetable, and a tomato is a fruit and a vegetable.

The real mystery to me is why this question always comes up around tomatoes and only tomatoes, when there are lots of other vegetable-fruits in the grocery store. Peppers, zucchini, pumpkins, eggplants, and cucumbers are ALL fruit. And vegetables. But somehow no one seems to wonder about them.

Joseph Tychonievich

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - www.facebook.com/TheGardenProfessors "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - www.facebook.com/groups/GardenProfessors Books: http://www.sustainablelandscapesandgardens.com

5 thoughts on “Is a tomato a fruit? Or a vegetable? Yes. And yes.”

  1. I’m always amused when nutritionists try to separate eating vegetables from eating fruit. Many things that we think of as vegetables ARE fruits. Trying to get them to name vegetables that aren’t (botanically) fruit really messes with their minds.

    The nutrition faculty office is next door to mine. Can you tell?

    I’m easily amused.

    1. An orange is absolutely a fruit. but I wouldn’t call it a vegetable. But I suppose that could change. Vegetable isn’t a classification with a strict, scientific definition, rather it is a group defined by culture. In our culture, at least as far as I know, an orange wouldn’t be considered a vegetable. But that could change some day, and it may be some groups or regions WOULD consider it a vegetable.

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