The Difference Between Fruits and Vegetables

Terynn Boulton 4
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:

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

Enjoy this article? If so, get our FREE wildly popular Daily Knowledge and Weekly Wrap newsletters:

Subscribe Me To:  | 
Print Friendly
Check Out Our New Book!»

4 Comments »

  1. LOVEPAREEK September 4, 2013 at 6:30 am - Reply

    NICELY WRITTEN, BUT THE MOST INTERESTING TIDBIT WAS BOUT THE FLOATING APPLES. I WAS NOT EVEN AWARE THAT APPLES FLOAT (THOUGH AFTER READING IT, I CHECKED IT PRACTICALLY IN KITCHEN AND …..WELL, U R RITE ON DOT), MUCH LESS THAN THAT THEY R COMPOSED OF 25% AIR. HA, INTERESTING TO NOTE THAT WHENEVER I BUY THEM, I ACTUALLY PAY FOR 25% AIR. MORE ARTCILES R AWAITED FROM U TERYNN. RGDS

  2. FishPreacher September 6, 2013 at 7:02 am - Reply

    LOVEPARKEEK: your cap lock button is stuck.

  3. carnut September 12, 2013 at 11:22 am - Reply

    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

    • carnut September 12, 2013 at 11:23 am - Reply

      or throw away… since not everyone eats the core or skin. but you get my point.

Leave A Response »