When Sam and Alex were in grade school, they came home taking about “fruit vegetables” one day and I thought that their teachers had gone loco. I remember Sam claiming, quite contentiously, that the tomato is a fruit and, for a moment, I felt that I should pay her teacher a visit and give him a lecture on cooking ingredients. It’s a good thing that I didn’t or I might have made a complete fool of myself.
See, I never heard of fruit vegetables when I was in school — was that a new discovery, a product of cross- breeding or the result of Frankenstein-style experiment? Well, parents should listen to their kids as they are the source of information that may not even have proper terms when our generation was in grade school. According to them, there are plants that we had been cooking as vegetables that are, by botanic definition, fruits. The tomato is just one of many examples.
Back then, it was just a bit of interesting information for me. It didn’t particularly matter to me what the botanic classification was of every ingredient that went into the pan. The nitty-gritty of it all might be something that a scientist would get all excited about but, to me, food was food.
The significance didn’t really hit me until Sam turned vegetarian. I had been cooking meatless dishes for her for a year and, at one point, I realized that I had been providing her with more fruitarian than vegetarian meals. The dish in the photo above, for instance, has squash, zucchini, cauliflower and pineapple — only one of which is a vegetable. All squashes (zucchini is a squash variety) are fruits, pineapple is obviously a fruit so only the cauliflower is a vegetable.
What differentiates a fruit from a vegetable? Aren’t they simply different parts of a plant?
Let’s start with definitions from sources commonly accepted as authoritative. A fruit, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the part of a plant that has the seeds in it” which, in a more scientific sense translates to “the ripened ovary of a seed plant and its contents.”
Encyclopedia Brittanica defines vegetable as “any kind of plant life or plant product, namely ‘vegetable matter’; in common, narrow usage, the term vegetable usually refers to the fresh edible portion of a herbaceous plant—roots, stems, leaves, flowers, or fruit.”
Fruit, therefore, is a SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION of a plant part while vegetable is a term based on CULINARY USAGE. In a more illustrative sense, if a fruit-bearing plant is raised as a food source, the fruits, when cooked, are treated as vegetables. Ergo, the term “fruit vegetables.”
The definitions, however, will never stay constant as science and cultivation practices have changed, and continue to change, plant organisms and how they reproduce. Seedless watermelons and grapes, for instance, can we still call them fruits when fruit is, by definition, the part of the plant that contains the seeds? Has science come up with a classification for seedless fruits? Or should science modify the definition of “fruit”?
Relative to the vegetarian diet, it might be more accurate to say “plant-based” than vegetarian.
So, how many plants that had gone into your cooking pot are actually fruits and not vegetables? Take a test.