14 Juni 2010

The Difference Between Fruits and Vegetables

By: Sharon Falsetto

Fruits and vegetables have many health benefits and are frequently used in culinary dishes in different ways; however, many common botanic fruits are often mistakenly described as vegetables. It may sound arbitrary, but, in 1893, the case of whether a tomato was a fruit or a vegetable was discussed in the U.S. Supreme Court. In addition, cultural and culinary traditions often dictate the “classification” of a fruit and a vegetable. However, in botany, the difference between fruits and vegetables is very distinct.

What is a Botanical Fruit?

In botany, a fruit is the part of a plant that contains the seeds. Seeds are part of a plant's reproductive system and a fruit is described as “ripe” when the ovary of the plant has been fertilized. Fruits develop in many different ways, depending on the plant, and may be dry or fleshy. Some plants bear fruit without fertilization through a process called parthenocarpy. In addition, commercial cultivars of fruit are often seedless too, such as bananas and pineapples.

Examples of botanical fruits include oranges, peaches, bell peppers, and tomatoes. However, in common usage, only oranges and peaches are generally “classified” as fruits; bell peppers and tomatoes are usually found in the vegetable produce section of the market.

What is a Botanical Vegetable?

“Vegetable” is a broad term that is used to describe an edible plant which isn't a fruit. It is not recognized as a true botanic term, despite its common usage. Legislation in different parts of the world may interpret vegetables differently depending on taxation and legal requirements.

Vegetables are:
  • leafy, for example lettuce
  • aromatic, for example herbs
  • stem, for example celery
  • root, for example potato
  • sprouting, for example bean.

Although chillies and black pepper are commonly described as vegetables, they are, in fact, botanical fruit. In common language usage, vegetables are savory and fruits are sweet in flavor. However, this common “classification” means that botanically many fruits are often “incorrectly” described as vegetables.

The 1893 U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on the Tomato as a Fruit

The legal case of Hix v. Hedden (1893) highlighted the definition of a “fruit” and a “vegetable” according to common usage of the terms. After arguments brought forward by both the defense and the plaintiff, as to the definitions of various fruits and vegetables, according to Webster's dictionary in comparison to the 1883 Tariff Act on imported produce, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the tomato was defined as a vegetable in this particular case, although it conceded that the tomato was botanically a fruit. Today, the tomato, like many other botanical fruits, is often described as a vegetable.

Common Fruits Classified as Vegetables

Examples of vegetables in common word usage in comparison to their botanical classification as a fruit include:

  • cucumber
  • tomato
  • avocado
  • eggplant
  • pumpkin
  • pepper
  • squash
  • pea
  • bean

Common Usage of the Words “Fruit” and “Vegetable”

The difference between fruits and vegetables is complex; botanically speaking, fruits are often described as vegetables in common word usage. However, both fruits and vegetables are in wide usage in culinary dishes, regardless of their classification in the botanical world.


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site, Fruits and Veggies Matter, accessed June 1, 2010
  • Science Centre Singapore web site, What is the difference between a fruit and a vegetable?, accessed June 1, 2010
  • Classic Encyclopedia (Based on the 11th Edition of Encyclopedia Britannica (pub. 1911)) website, Fruit, accessed June 1, 2010
  • Find Law website, U.S Supreme Court Nix v. Hedden (1893), accessed June 1, 2010
Source: http://botany.suite101.com/article.cfm/the-difference-between-fruits-and-vegetables

See Also: Gift Basket, Flowers Barbados, Flower Arrangements

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