Healthspan Blog

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Tomatoes & Eggplant: fruits or vegetables?

1st June 2006

Wandering through the produce department today, my ten year old asked why tomatoes were in the vegetable section when they are really fruits. Most everyone knows that tomatoes aren’t really veggies but I started to wonder if there was some history behind our fruit/vegetable tomfoolery. So, here’s what I’ve found out.

In 1893, a tomato was categorized as a vegetable by the United States Supreme Court so it could be subject to import taxes. At that time, fruits weren’t taxed so foreign countries could import as much as they wanted. American tomato growers wanted to keep the tomato market all to themselves so they brought the suit. Apparently with the popularity of fries, hot dogs & burgers, American farmers still want to keep the catsup market cornered and the overseas tomato growers aren’t too concerned, because more than a century later, a tomato is still a “vegetable.” But it isn’t really.

Comparing vitamin and nutrition content of real veggies, commonly accepted fruits and our disguised fruits, there seem to be no rules to follow. You can’t look at where in the produce section items are placed, because those tomatoes are usually near the onions, definitely a vegetable.

Ask anyone on the street and they’ll say that comparing apples and oranges to onions and lettuce is really comparing fruits and vegetables. I found that what makes a fruit a fruit and a vegetable a vegetable is part horticulture and part tradition. Horticulture dictates that vegetables come from annual, nonwoody plants and are cultivated for an edible part, like the root of the carrot, the leaf of spinach, or the flower buds of broccoli. A fruit is the ripened ovary or ovaries of a seed bearing plant that contains the seeds. So a tomato is a fruit.

Then I started to wonder…are there any other foods with mistaken identities? I was pretty surprised to find out my many of my salad bar choices aren’t the servings of veggies I thought I was getting, but are fruits. Other bogus vegetables include peppers, cucumber, avocado, squash and zucchini, peas, pumpkins and avocados.

My last shock came when I found the oddest disguised fruit…That eggplant parmesean I’m so fond of is really sliced, breaded, fried and cheesed FRUIT!

I don’t think I’ll start making cucumber pie or adding peas to my fruit salad, but I won’t look at my produce grocer in the same light. Who does he think he is…tricking me into buying fruits at vegetable prices?

Any way you cut it, fruits are good for you and so are vegetables. Even if your veggie really is a fruit.

Mary Smith

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