Is That Veggie Really a Fruit?

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner


Is That Veggie Really a Fruit?

Although we refer to foods like cucumbers and tomatoes as vegetables, they really are fruits.

And, what about rhubarb? It usually shows up on the table cooked into something called a “fruit pie”, yet, botanically speaking, it really is a vegetable. And what about a root crop like a carbohydrate-rich, sweet carrot? How do we determine whether those colorful roots really are vegetables or something else entirely?

Fortunately, it’s fairly simple to differentiate a true fruit from a valid vegetable. Genuine fruits only form as the result of a flower being pollinated. Once a flower is pollinated, the fertilized ovary located at the base of that flower then swells, becoming a fruit. So, if what’s in your salad comes from some non-flower portion of a plant, then it is a vegetable. Otherwise, it is a fruit. Vegetables are parts that plants builds as “vegetative structures”. They may be leaves like lettuce, shoots like asparagus or roots like potatoes. So, those cucumbers and tomatoes are fruits. But that rhubarb stalk and those carrots really are vegetables.

that rhubarb stalk and those carrots really are vegetables

Fruits and vegetables may both develop into a rainbow of colors, or they may be green and able to photosynthesize (aka make food for the plant). Often, young fruits will stay green and contribute to the plant’s internal food factory until they ripen. And, in some cases, fruit casings remain green even when we harvest – think of a pea pod, Green Zebra tomato or even a zucchini. On the other hand, some vegetables present very little green, even in their leaves – think purple cabbage and red-leaf lettuce.

Plants form fruits for a number of reasons. The fruit surrounding a seed may offer protection. It may provide nutrients to those seeds as they germinate and form new plants. And, by tempting hungry eaters like birds, deer, rabbits and people, the fruit encasing a seed may help that seed disperse to new locations where a new plant later will grow.Vegetative growth forms for many reasons. For instance, leaves gather sunlight and produce food that the plant needs. Edible taproots like potatoes and carrots function as carbohydrate storage structures that the plant can draw from to feed itself in times of need.

sweet raspberries

So, the next time you’re offered a serving of fruit salad, you’ll know to ask whether you’re getting a tangy plate of cucumbers and tomatoes or a cupful of sweet raspberries and melons – all of which, botanically speaking, truly are fruits. (Oh, and that basil in the tomato salad and that mint with the melon balls? Yep, those are vegetables.)