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Tomato - Vegetable or Fruit?

Updated on August 11, 2012

Tomato - Fruit or Vegetable - Always Delicious

Tomatoes can be eaten fresh off the vine, canned, cooked, pickled and in a variety of ways. But are tomatoes a vegetable or fruit?
Tomatoes can be eaten fresh off the vine, canned, cooked, pickled and in a variety of ways. But are tomatoes a vegetable or fruit? | Source

Tomato - A Vegetable or Fruit?

The story of tomatoes starts long ago in South America. As it made its way to Europe and around the world and to the U.S.A., its popularity grew.

Our founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson grew his own tomatoes, just as many of us do today.

The fruit - vegetable debate has raged from the court house to the hot house but when this delicatable food lands on our plates, it is a temptation that is hard to resist.

What is a Fruit?

According to the science of botany, if it has seeds,and a fleshy growth that originates from a flower of the plant, it is considered a fruit.

The fruit grows from this reproductive part of the plant. As the ovary of the flower forms into the fruit, the seeds grow inside, making this edible food a fruit.

A walnut for example, has a shell and seed. The outside is the shell, the inner seed is the nut. But then, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, peas, walnuts, green beans, and peppers would be classified as fruits also.

What is a Vegetable?

Vegetables are classified by the ability to eat the leaves, roots, stems and flowers from a plant.

  • cabbage, spinach - leaves of a plant
  • carrots, radishes,potatoes - roots
  • celery - stems
  • broccoli - flowers of the plant

Tomatoes - According to Science

The tomato is a special kind of fruit that consists of an ovary with many seeds surrounding the juicy flesh. Botanically, tomatoes are classified as a berry fruit.

Other berry fruits include grapes. Grapes grow on woody plants as grapevines.

Other vegetable fruits are peas and pumpkins and peppers.

A fruit is the edible part of the plant that contains the seeds, while a vegetable is the edible stems, leaves, and roots of the plant.

Spinach, cabbage, and broccoli are true vegetables because they are eaten as leaves or from the buds of leaves before they produce their fruits and seeds.

Tomatoes are not as sweet tasting as other fruits, so taste wise, they seem more like a vegetable. In a meal, they mix better with other vegetables too.

Some Tomato History

It was the Aztecs and Incas, in 700 AD, who first cultivated tomatoes.

When explorers returned to Europe from Mexico, they brought tomatoes back with them. That was about 1556.

Tomatoes were well loved among the Europeans. The French called tomatoes the apple of love and the Germans call tomatoes the apple of paradise.

Tomatoes Go to Court

The Tomato Debate Ends Up in the Supreme Court.

In March of 1883, Congress put a 10% import tariff on vegetables that were brought into the U.S. Everyone went along with this duty tax.

But when the Nix family shipped tomatoes from the West Indies to New York, they were charged the tax. The collector at the New York Port, named Edward Hedden, refused to classify tomatoes as a fruit.

The Nix family sued to recover the tariff they were forced to pay. This was brought before the U.S. court system. The Nix family, tried to prove that botanically, tomatoes are classified as fruits, even bringing in expert testimony. It was a seedy trail.

The defense, called to the stand squash, cucumber, pepper, and eggplant, for their expert testimony. (Not really, the lawyers just used the definitions of these vegetables as proof that tomatoes are considered vegetables too.)

After a 6 year legal battle, and it eventually being argued before the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court Justices declared in 1893, that tomatoes are a vegetable.

Justice Horace Gray stated that although tomatoes were the fruit of the vine, they were served at the dinner table after soup, or with the main meal, which would constitute it as a vegetable. Fruits, he said, were served at the end of the meal, as a dessert.

Botanically, tomatoes are considered a fruit of the vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas. But in common language of people, whether sellers or consumers of provisions, all these are vegetables which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, eaten cooked or raw, are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not like fruits generally, as dessert.
Source: Nix v. Hedden, 149 US 304 (1893)

If tomatoes weren’t put on icecream, they were not considered a fruit. The Nix family could not get back their tariff money.

The precedent the Justices used for this case was a previous Supreme Court decision, Robertson v Salomon.

Justice Joseph P. Bradley wrote an opinion that green beans are vegetables, because we eat them as vegetables, even if botanically, they are classified as seeds.

Tomatoes and Politics

In 1981, the Reagan administration was looking for ways to cut down on the cost of school lunches. They had to provide a nutritious lunch includng 2 servings of vegetables. So the people in President Reagan’s office got the idea of counting ketchup as a vegetable. But the idea was unsuccessful and shelved, after parents protested.

In 2005, New Jersey, which is well known for their tomatoes lobbied Congress to have “the tomato” be declared New Jersey’s state vegetable. They used the Nix v Hedden ruling as just cause. There is a minor civil war between the states about the tomato. In 1987, Arkansas declared the South Arkansas Pink Vine Ripe tomato as Arkansas’ official state fruit and vegetable. Tennessee and Ohio have both declared the tomato as their official state fruits, which pleased botantists greatly. :

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The Health Benefits of Tomatoes

Tomatoes have a lot going for them. They are rich in Vitamin C and A, and high in fiber. Tomatoes are cholesterol free and only about 35 calories Tomatoes are red because of lycopene. Lycopene is believed to help prevent cancer and is considered to be one of the most powerful antioxidants and prevents the free radicals that do harm to our body. There are more than 10,000 different varieties of tomatoes.

Tomatoes - Vegetable or Fruit - Does It Really Matter?

The scientific term for the common tomato is lycopersicon lycopersicum, which mean “wolf peach.” It is a cousin of the eggplant, red pepper, ground cherry, and potato.

Tomatoes are used in many food products, from soups, sauces, salads, dressings, appetizers and ketchup. The culinary uses of tomatoes make this a very versatile food.

Cooked tomatoes are even higher in lycopene concentrations than fresh tomatoes. Tomatoes come in many sizes from cherry and grape tomatoes to big boy and beefsteak tomatoes.

Tomatoes do better left on the counter, than in the refrigerator. Cold temperatures reduce the flavor of tomatoes.

Tomatoes - Intelligent, Good Looking, and a Great Personality too!

So now that you know more than you ever thought you might about tomatoes, I dare you to try to go a day without the delicious tomato being including in some meal of the day.

Think of all the things we eat that have some tomato in it. The tomato has improved our quality of life in numerous ways, from pizza sauce, and tomato juice to salsa and gazpacho, tomatoes are used in every culture and every country.

From grilled, dried, canned, pickled, or right off the vine, tomatoes are great to eat on any day in a variety of ways.

Easy Tomato Salad Recipes

Click here to get some quick, easy and delicious recipes using fresh tomatoes in a salad.


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    • profile image

      Bly Grant 5 years ago

      Very interesting and so true. The tomato is indeed an intelligent plant.

      Eat 3 a day and get your full ration of vitamin C.

    • the girls profile image

      Theresa Ventu 5 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      I didn't realize the tomatoes have a complicated legal history... I love it whether it is processed or not. I should give more TLC the ones growing in my backyard. Good hub :-)

    • profile image

      DoItForHer 5 years ago

      Tomatoes are also good for demonstrating the sharpness of a knife.

      And for demonstrating ones civil disobedience.

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi my friend, Great information on the tomato, i grow tomato so i knew most of this. Also did you know that the leaves of the tomato plant are poisonous ?

      Well done and vote up !!!

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi Billy,

      Yes, the tomato is quite an unassuming food. But I think the facts are interesting and funny and I am glad you learned a thing or two.

      Thanks as always for stopping by and commenting.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi Ghaelach, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I am glad you enjoyed this article. Have a nice weekend too. And thanks for stopping by.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Okay, I admit, I knew very little of this. The history surprised me...I had no idea they originated in Latin America. Very cool hub!

    • profile image

      Ghaelach 5 years ago

      Hi toknowinfo.

      Great hub, good info.

      Well researched.

      The tomatoe is on my list of health fruit/veggies which we have every day.

      Take care and have a nice weekend.

      LOL Ghaelach