What is the difference between fruits and vegetables?

If someone asked you randomly whether a mango is a fruit or vegetable, what would you say? You would obviously answer that is a fruit. And you would also have no doubt about a carrot being a vegetable. But what about a tomato, or even a pumpkin? Are these foods fruits or vegetables? Even though most of us would answer undoubtedly that they are vegetables, they are actually not so, at least in a botanical perspective. While it does not matter to someone who is only looking for nutritional value if what he or she is eating is a fruit or a vegetable, it will be astonishing for some to know that some of the foods we call vegetables are technically fruits and vice versa.

The general consensus is that an edible plant should be categorized as a fruit if it has seeds, and if it is a vegetable, it should contain no seeds. If we follow this principle, we will find out that beans, peas, and cucumber are all considered fruits. In botany, fruits are the parts that developed from the ovary of flowering plants where seeds are stored. These fruits also serve as a way for the plant to spread seeds around, ensuring the survival of the species by placing seeds on the ground and letting them grow into plants. Based on that definition, we can say that nuts and grains are fruits since nuts are plant ovaries, while grains are simply oversized seeds of a plant.

If that is the notion with fruits, what are vegetables? All of the edible parts of a plant, except its fruits, are called vegetables. These edible portions include roots like a carrot, leaves like spinach, stems like ginger, flower buds like a cauliflower, and tubers like the potato. Furthermore, seeds can also be classified as a vegetable, but to make things simpler for consumers, most botanists would omit seeds as vegetables. On the other hand, most people would consider fungi (mushrooms) and algae (seaweed) to be vegetables, even though they have meat-like properties and are not the root, leaf, or stem of a plant.

Considering these definitions, why do we call some fruits as vegetables? That is where our traditions are put into place in exchange for science. It does not matter in the kitchen whether the ingredients are botanically fruits, as the laws that determine whether it is a fruit or a vegetable are defined by taste. The differentiations are vaguer, but it is supposed to keep them simpler for people. In the kitchen, the foods we call fruits are typically sweet and are eaten as desserts. On the other hand, the vegetables are less tasty, but are quite savory and are served as part of the main dish. The grocery shoppers, who are normally ordinary people, don’t categorize the difference between fruits and vegetables according to complex botanical concepts.

The debate over the division between the fruits and vegetables has a long and interesting history. There are even instances where the law had to intervene in the issue. In 1893, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that tomatoes that are imported or are delivered by other countries to the US should be taxed as a vegetable rather than as a fruit. Although the court agreed with the botanical classification that a tomato should be classified as a fruit, they have eventually decided to use the kitchen definition in the ruling. They have also agreed on that ruling mainly because fruits are less taxed than vegetables in the US, and since they wanted importing companies to pay more taxes, they have chosen to classify tomatoes as vegetables.

The differences between a fruit and a vegetable are not something that should affect our daily life, even though botanists are always debating over these foods’ classification. Because of the longstanding debates on the differentiations on the two types of foods, some scientists have refused to classify them based on botany. But food is food, and it doesn’t really matter to the ordinary person if what he or she is eating is a fruit or a vegetable, but it is essential to be knowledgeable of their food’s nutrients and benefits to their health.

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