The Difference Between Fruits and Vegetables

Candace asks: What makes a fruit a fruit and a vegetable a vegetable?

fruits-and-vegetablesAn apple is a fruit, right? So is a banana. How about a cucumber? A vegetable, right? Not really, from a botanical standpoint.

The good news is that, nutritionally speaking in terms of what you should eat daily, fruits and vegetables are typically grouped together, so you can simply pick your favorites and eat away without completing a science degree. The surprising news is that, scientifically speaking, many of the foods we refer to as vegetables are actually fruits!

For instance, would you believe that beans, corn, bell peppers, peas, eggplant, pumpkins, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes are all fruits? That’s because, botanically speaking, fruits are the part of flowering plants that contain the seeds and are the means by which such plants disseminate those seeds.

So even nuts are fruits. Grains, which are really just oversized seeds, are also fruits.

So what about vegetables?  Botanically speaking, vegetables are all the other parts of the plant, including the leaves (e.g. lettuce and spinach), roots (e.g. carrots and radishes), stems (e.g. ginger and celery) and even the flower buds (e.g. broccoli and cauliflower).

To sum it up – if it is from a plant and has seeds (or would have seeds if it wasn’t genetically engineered or cultivated to not have them, as with things like seedless grapes), it is a fruit; if it doesn’t, it is a vegetable.

So why in the world do we learn that such things as peppers, corn and cucumbers are vegetables? Why when we shop in the produce section of the grocery store are these foods found in the veggie section? We can blame it on the culinary traditions where the part of the plant we are eating does not generally matter in terms of its classification – taste does! When it comes to cooking, fruits are generally sweet tasting and vegetables are more savory and less sweet. Fruits are also typically served as part of dessert or as snacks, and vegetables are often part of the main dish.

So, in the end, the scientific classification system makes a clear dividing line between fruits and vegetables as described above, while the culinary system of classification is considerably more ambiguous, hence why so many are confused as to what is a vegetable and what is a fruit. But, at least now you needn’t be confused any longer. 🙂

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Facts:

  • China is the leading cultivator of vegetables in the world, with top productions in potato, onions, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes and broccoli.
  • Apples float in water because they are 25% air which makes bobbing for apples at Halloween so much easier… though still not exactly hygienic.
  • The Cavendish banana is the most common type of banana sold today even though it has only been in existence since 1836.  Further, just a bit over a half century ago, exceptionally few stores carried them.  At that time, the Gros Michel banana was king, before being nearly wiped out on a global scale quite suddenly thanks to a certain type of fungus.  More here: Commercial Banana Plants are All Perfect Clones of One Another
  • The term “Adam’s apple” came from the notion that the forbidden “apple” (not actually originally thought to have been an apple) got stuck in Adam’s throat when he swallowed it.
  • Dirty cantaloupes can spread bacteria. In 2011, 21 people died in the United States from cantaloupes harboring listeria bacteria.
  • Although the United States Supreme Court did acknowledge that, botanically speaking, a tomato is a fruit, the court ruled unanimously in Nix v. Hedden that a tomato is correctly identified as, and thus taxed as, a vegetable, for the purposes of the Tariff of 1883 on imported produce.
  • Tomatoes are the world’s most popular fruit! More than 60 million tons are produced every year. The banana is the second most popular fruitm with 44 million tons of bananas produced every year.
  • Peppers have their own heat scale. Yes, the heat of a pepper is measured in scoville units and ranges from 0 (like that of a green pepper) to 1,000,000 scoville units. The only pepper that measures 1,000,000 scoville units is the bhut jolokia pepper from India. It is so strong that the Indian militia has started putting it in grenades to immobilize crowds and fight terrorists.
Expand for References
Share the Knowledge! FacebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmailFacebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmail
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Enjoy this article? Join over 50,000 Subscribers getting our FREE Daily Knowledge and Weekly Wrap newsletters:

Subscribe Me To:  | 



    • You pay for an apple’s weight, and air doesn’t weigh anything, so you’re not paying for it.

      • Technically you’re incorrect, if you fill a balloon with air and weigh it against a balloon that’s empty the inflated will weigh more. So today you found out that air has a mass of approximately 1.2 kilograms per cubic meter at sea level! 😀

        • anthony forwood

          Compressed air has weight (in a balloon) air in its natural state dose not. Air at lower temperature will allo drop because it is more compact than warm air. So an cold apple will be heavy in a warm room than it will in a cold room. And even then its only the pollutants in the air (dust practical ect) that causes it.

    • What makes it a fruit or a veg? Fruit is a ripened ovary and a veg is any other part of a plant, the shoot root leaves and flowers. So anything with a seed is a fruit and if no seed its a veg. Look at a banana, have you seen a seen a seed? Chances are no but they’re there but very small. How about seedless fruit? They’re usually varieties where seeds are undeveloped or insignificant.

      The types of fruits are often mistaken. Almost every “nut” isn’t a nut. A peanut is neither a pea nor a nut but a legume related to peas. Almond walnut even peaches apricots plums are drupes. Berries are often not berries. Blueberries grapes (even bananas are specialized) are berries but raspberries blackberries are not berries. Its related to the number of ovaries to the turning into carpets or seed bearing chambers. A berry is generally a 1:1 ratio.

      I could go on but that’s enough for now. I hope It’s interesting.

  • LOVEPARKEEK: your cap lock button is stuck.

    • I have found that in 99% of cases a CAPS LOCK persons are 50+ years in age usually Or they lack confidence in their ability to write. Just sayin’.

  • Technically, you aren’t paying for 25% air.

    Since air has no weight and apples are sold based on weight, not space/size, you are only paying for the part of apple you eat

  • air has weight..if it didnt youd have no atoms “that have weight” to breath in..
    if you put a jar on a scale and weigh it and suck the air out so its a vacum at the same time the weight WILL go down…thus proving air does have weight.

  • I think the air in an apple would have weight, air that is trapped inside something has weight to it

  • i thought cucumber was a veggie

  • Yes, the gas in the apple has mass; however, it is neutrally buoyant in the ambient atmosphere given similar composition, temperature and pressure.

  • somebody needs to create a palatable tasting dessert using cucumbers to settle this once and for all

  • Air has weight?! Weight = gravitational force X mass. Air contains O2, O3, H2, H2O, N2, No and various other molecules. Each molecule contains at least 2 atoms which each have an atomic MASS. Therefore it has weight. Just because its a gas doesnt mean its weightless. Gases don’t float because they are weightless, they float due to density and buoyancy.

  • Actually, corn, grain, and other seeds are vegetables. Botanically, fruits are the fruiting bodies that contain the seeds, and since seeds contain no seeds because they ^are^ them, seeds are therefore vegetables. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *