Posted on 19 February 2008 by

Once and For All: Is the Tomato a Fruit or Vegetable?

TomatoBy Michelle Fabio

It’s an age-old question that has even reached the Supreme Court of the United States–so what’s the answer?

If you’re having cocktails with a botanist, you’d best say that a tomato is most definitely scientifically a fruit, which are developed in the ovary of a flower along with its seeds. In this sense, there’s no question that the tomato is a fruit.

So where does the tomato’s reputation as a vegetable come from? Probably from cooking where the luscious fruit is used in savory rather than sweet dishes (tomato cake isn’t a popular recipe request).

Note that the term “vegetable” has no botanical definition, and indeed, squashes, eggplant, and cucumbers are other botanical fruits that we often call vegetables based on how they are used in cooking.

Incidentally, in 1893, our highest court agreed with classifying a tomato as a vegetable for tariff purposes. In other governmental affairs, New Jersey’s state vegetable is the tomato, but Arkansas straddles the fence and calls the tomato its state fruit *and* vegetable.

So is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable?

Quite simply, yes.

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