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The last two years I’ve celebrated my January 9th birthday in a unique way. I write activities on slips of paper, place them in a jar and draw one out each day. The number of activities corresponds to the number of years in my upcoming birthday. I’ll turn 63 on my birthday so I placed 63 activities into the jar.
One activity that I drew out led to interesting research. It read: “Only eat fruit for a day”. I’m plant based, since July of 2016, so eating lots of fruits and veggies is common for me. In planning my menu for the day, however, I wondered which foods were really fruits…and which were really vegetables. I knew, for example, that tomatoes, while eaten as a vegetable, are actually fruit. What else is commonly called a vegetable, when in actuality it is a fruit?
I was intrigued by what I found. You might be too.
Is it a fruit? Check out these foods that might surprise you.
What classifies a food as a fruit or vegetable?
A fruit, by definition, is “anything that grows on a plant and is the means by which that plant gets its seeds into the world.” Vegetables, on the other hand, “are any edible part of a plant including stems, leaves or roots.”
The difference, then, are the seeds. Cut open an apple and there are the seeds. The flesh of the apple is a container for them. Cut open a potato and there are no seeds.
The following foods are commonly thought of and consumed as vegetables, when botanically, they are fruits.
Although we all learned as kids that tomatoes are a fruit, that fact has long been debated.
Back in 1893 a case even went before the Supreme Court to determine which the tomato was. A Manhattan food seller argued that he should not pay a vegetable tariff on imported tomatoes, since they were a fruit and not a vegetable. The tariff fees for fruits were much lower. He lost the case when the court ruled that people prepared and ate tomatoes like a vegetable, not a fruit. The court added that tomatoes, like vegetables, are primarily served as part of the dinner’s main course while fruits, generally, are considered dessert.
Verdict: tomatoes are a fruit most often served as a vegetable.
If you’ve ever cut into a pumpkin, to cook one or to create a jack-o-lantern, you’ve seen the seeds. Pumpkins, and all gourds, are fruits. Another common characteristic of fruits is that they begin as a flower. The flowers require pollination and then follows growth, development and ripening of the fruit.
Peppers, from the sweet bell pepper to the spicy jalapeno, are produced on a flowering plant and contain seeds. They are fruits.
This easily grown plant is a member of the gourd family, like pumpkins. Their vines produce flowers and the cucumber contains seeds. It is a fruit.
This summer squash is also a member of the gourd family, making it a fruit as well. Yellow squash falls into the same category as do winter squashes such as butternut and acorn.
It surprises some to learn that eggplants are actually considered berries! And that places eggplants in the fruit category.
The avocado, a primary ingredient in guacamole, is a single seeded berry, not a vegetable. And like berries, avocadoes do well in desserts such as chocolate mousse or as a fat replacement in baked goods.
Technically, peas are not a vegetable and they aren’t the fruit either. The pods the peas form in are the fruits and the peas are the seeds. Categorically, peas are in the fruit family.
Similar to peas, the green bean is the pod holding the seeds, making them fruit. In this case, we eat the pod and the seeds.
Beans are a member of the legume family, like peas. They are the seeds tucked within pods, making them fruit. Typically we “shuck” the beans out of the pods and eat them that way.
Okra pods are also the fruit, with the seeds contained within. However, we eat the whole fruit, pod and seeds. Okra, excellent fried or in stews and gumbos, is a member of the mallow family.
Olives grow on trees and they are categorized as fruits. Specifically, they are stone fruits like peaches, mangoes and dates.
The only instance I could find of a vegetable mistaken for a fruit is the rhubarb plant. This perennial, often baked into pies due to its sweet flavor, is technically a vegetable. This is because only the plant’s stems are edible.
There Are More Fruits Than I Realized
As I researched fruits and vegetables, I discovered there are more fruits than I realized! This proved good news for my “only eat fruit” day. My options expanded beyond apples, bananas and blueberries.
And while I ate plenty of the usual fruits on that day, I brought in fruits disguised as vegetables. For lunch I enjoyed a healthy and delicious orange, avocado, green olive salad with Thai chili pickles…cucumbers.
Are you surprised to learn that some of your favorite vegetables are actually fruits? Which one surprised you the most?
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