If someone asked you whether a mango is a fruit or vegetable, what would you say? You would answer fruit, of course. And you would have no doubt about carrot being a vegetable. But what about tomato? Or pumpkin? Are they fruits or vegetables? Even though most of you would answer undoubtedly vegetables, they are not so, at least in a botanical perspective. While it does not matter to someone who is only looking for nutritional value, it will be astonishing to know that most of the foods we call vegetables are technically fruits.
The general principle is that an edible plant has been categorized as a fruit if it has seeds, and is a vegetable if it contains no seeds. Believe it or not, but beans, peas and cucumber are all fruits. In botany, fruits are the parts developed from the ovary of flowering plants where seeds are stored. They also act as a way to spread the seeds around, ensuring the survival of the species. Based on that definition, even nuts and grains are fruits. Nuts are plant ovaries while grains are simply oversized seeds.
So what are vegetables? The all edible parts of a plant except fruits are vegetables. It can include roots as in carrot, leaves as in spinach, stems like in ginger or flower buds like cauliflower, tubers as in potato.
Considering this, why do we call the fruits still vegetables? That is where our traditions put a stop to the science. It does not matter in kitchen whether these are botanically fruits, where the laws are determined by taste. They are vaguer but supposed to keep it simpler. If we think, we will know that the foods we call fruits are generally sweet and are eaten as desserts. The vegetables, on the other hand, are less tasty, savory and served as part of main dish. The grocers also don’t categorize them according to complex botanical concepts.
The debates over the status of foods have a long and interesting history. There are even instances where law had to intervene in the issue. In the 1893, United States Supreme Court case Nix. v/s Hedden, the court unanimously ruled that the imported tomato should be taxed as a vegetable, rather than as a fruit. Even though the court agreed with the botanical classification, they decided to use the kitchen definition here.
The difference between a fruit and a vegetable is not something that affects daily life, even though botanists are always at loggerheads over the classification. Some scientists are even reluctant to classify them.
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