Is a Tomato a Fruit or a Vegetable?

Is a Tomato a Fruit or a Vegetable?

Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? It’s a popular question and leaves people further confused as tomato plants are frequently included in a vegetable garden. But a tomato is in fact a fruit.

So are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable?

Yes! They are both! It depends on how you are referring to it. Politically and for culinary purposes, a tomato is a vegetable. Botanically, tomatoes are a fruit. Any seed-bearing structure formed in a flowering plant’s ovary is a fruit. (Technically even a zucchini is a fruit!)


 To a botanist, a fruit is an entity that develops from the fertilized ovary of a flower. This means that tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, corn kernels, and bean and pea pods are all fruits; so are apples, pears, peaches, apricots, melons and mangos. A vegetable, botanically, is any edible part of a plant that doesn’t happen to be a fruit, as in leaves (spinach, lettuce, cabbage), roots (carrots, beets, turnips), stems (asparagus), tubers (potatoes), bulbs (onions), and flowers (cauliflower and broccoli). National Geographic


Why do we confuse tomatoes for a vegetable? Or a fruit? 

In the late 1800’s the Supreme Court deemed tomatoes a vegetable. Why? Because most people think it is! There was a lawsuit over taxation and vegetables vs. fruit which is how this all came about.

Culinary classifications can tend to differ from botanical classifications such as is the case with tomatoes…..and zucchini! Tomatoes are cooked and used like vegetables and thus typically referred to as a vegetable, thus the Supreme Court’s ruling.

hand holding tomatoes

Why does the Supreme Court get involved in food classification?

As you might have guessed, it’s usually about the money. 


Has the government classified any other foods?

  • In 1893 the Supreme Court weighed in on the Tariff Act of 1883, which only applied to taxation on vegetables and not fruits. 

  • In 1886, Justice Joseph Bradley in Robertson v. Salomon ruled that beans were vegetables.

  • Truffles, onions, and water chestnuts, and rhubarb have also been officially classified in court decisions.

  • In 2001, the European Union declared carrots, sweet potatoes, and classified tomatoes to be fruits (for making jams).

  • The tomato is the state fruit of Tennessee and Ohio but the official state vegetable plant of Louisiana!!


“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad!” – Miles Kington

tomatoes, peppers and eggplants

What other vegetables are actually fruits?

  • Peppers

  • Peas

  • Green beans

  • Sweet corn

  • Zucchini / Squash

  • Eggplants

That is, botanically speaking of course. We typically, however, refer to all of these as vegetables. Once again, classification resulting in confusion! Thankfully classification does not change how we use these foods or even how they taste.


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