Tag Archives: Fruits

What determines if a plant is a fruit or a vegetable?

It depends on the context since different words mean different things in different contexts.

In botany, fruit refers the part of a flowering plant that has seeds. Things like apples and pears are botanical fruits, but so are tomatoes, cucumbers, legumes, and eggplant. The thing that makes them all fruit is they come from flowering plants and are contain seeds from that plant.

Vegetable is not a botanical term.

In cooking, fruit usually refers to any part of a plant that tastes sweet and is often eaten uncooked. A vegetable is usually any part of a plant that is savory and is often eaten cooked.

There are some legal classifications for foods too that may be different than the above definitions. For example, imported vegetables might be taxed differently from imported fruits and the law would just have to have a list of what counts as a fruit and what counts as a vegetable. Or it might matter for meeting nutritional guidelines.

So tomato is a fruit botanically speaking, but a vegetable in terms of cooking. On the other hand, jicama is not a botanical fruit, but it is a culinary fruit.

What is the difference between fruits and vegetables?

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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How does eating carrots change your skin color?

Carrot is one of the most nutritive vegetables in nature. Low in calories and saturated with vitamin A (retinol), falcarinol, minerals and antioxidants, it is essential for our health. The orange color of carrot is due to the presence of carotenoids, a group of lipid-soluble compounds. The major component of carotenoids is a chemical named beta-carotene which protects our skin from the damage caused by ultraviolet rays from the sun. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in liver. The vitamin is necessary for healthy eyes and reproduction. The carotenoids including carotene contribute to the natural color of human skin.
However, as the old saying goes, too many carrots can turn you orange. Yes, that is true. Eating excessive amount of carrots can cause a person’s color to turn to a yellow-orange shade, a condition named cartenosis. Also known in the names of carotenemia, xanthemia and xanthosis, the state arises from the habitual consumption of carrots, usually the daily drinking of carrot juice. It is mostly found in vegetarians and young children and most apparent in light-skinned people since the less amount of melanin. Infants who are starting to take in solid food are often fed with excessive amount of vegetables including carrots which may result in carotenosis. People regard carrot as a safe food, which prompt them to consume it in more than necessary amounts.
Usually the carotene is converted into Vitamin A in liver. But the increased intake of carrots raises the levels of carotene in the blood. This carotene is carried in plasma to the peripheral tissues of our body. The excess amount is then stored in the fat under our skin and secreted through sweat resulting in the yellow-orange pigmentation on the skin. The color will appear most prominently on the nose, the palms of hands and the soles of feet, where the skin layer is comparatively thicker.
Carotenosis is generally a harmless condition. It doesn’t produce any other ill effects, and can be solved by cutting back the consumption of carrots. The levels of carotene in blood will drop quickly even though the skin may take several weeks to change back to normal color due to the carotene accumulated in the tissues.
People develop carotenosis by taking excessive supplements of beta-carotene as well, which is a harmful medical condition named hypervitaminosis A. It can be accompanied by symptoms like blurred vision, dizziness and bone pain. Immediate medical consultation is suggested in those cases.

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Why are unripe fruits green and bitter while ripe fruits are colorful and sweet?

The answer lies in the theory of evolution. Like all the other organisms, the primary purpose of trees and plants, too, is reproduction so that their species continues to propagate itself. Since trees and plants can’t move around for reproduction, they have to depend on animals and birds. After an animal or bird eats the fruit along with the seeds within it, naturally the seeds travel in the stomach of the animal or bird who eat the fruit. This way the seeds travel far and wide and are released away from the place they originated at. This is how trees and plants reproduce.
During the process of digestion, however, the seeds have to endure acidic digestive juices. It is necessary for the seeds to have developed strong enough protective layer on the exterior so that they don’t get dissolved in the stomach’s acids. This protective layer is not formed overnight, but take days. In fact, that is the last stage of fruit’s growth. During this time the fruit should not be noticed by animals and birds. Hence, in order to camouflage with green leaves around them, fruits remain green in color. Their taste is also not enjoyable during this time. Only after the protective layer is formed around the seeds do fruits become colorful and attract animals and birds to eat them. They produce glucose and develop sweet taste as well as emit fragrance. All of this to attract animals and birds to eat them so that the now-ready seeds are dispersed.

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Why does fruit ripen? What causes the ripening process?

On one level, the answer is simple: a single chemical called ethylene, a gas produced by the fruit itself, is responsible for ripening process.
Some fruits ripen best on the vine or tree; others, such as avocados, don’t ripen until they fall. Most fruits soften as they get ripe. A few, though including coconuts, become harder. Ripening is heralded in many fruits by a marked increase in ethylene production. This seems to affect the fruit’s physiology. It begins to respire, to breathe ‘oxygen’, a process that rises its internal temperature slightly.
Respiration can increase three, four, or even five-fold, providing extra energy for the work ahead. Chlorophyll is broken down and the fruit loses its green, unripe color. The starch present in it gets converted into sugar. Acids (and thus sourness) decreases. The pectin that cements cell walls together begins to disintegrate, softening the fruit. A corky layer may firm at the base of the fruit’s stalk, causing it to fall. Finally, many fruits produce aromatic chemicals that impart to them an enticing aroma.
But why do many plants expend so much energy and effort surrounding their seeds with tasty fruit, only to have it fall to the ground and rot or to be carried away by bird, animal or man?
The key seems to be dispersal. Plants, forever rooted in one spot, take advantage of the mobility of animals. Fruit is bait, dangled temptingly for all to see. Once ‘taken’ by some hungry forager, the seeds within the edible exterior pass unscathed through the digestive tract and are deposited far from the plant that produced them.

Additional reading:
Ripening (Wikipedia)

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Where did onions originate from? And how did they become popular around the world?

Onions were initially cultivated 4,000 years ago in the regions of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
The word onion has been derived from the Latin word unio. Due to the natural composition of onion with many layers bonded together, the Romans had named it unio, which means oneness. Onions are commonly used in all types of cuisines. However, onions have not always been so popular.
For instance, most of the Indians did not consume onions due to certain religious beliefs that insisted people to refrain from its use, as it was believed to create evil qualities that lead one to become angry, resentful, arrogant and destructive. While on his visit to the 110 states and provinces of India from 629 AD to 645 AD, the Chinese traveler, Hiuen Tsang (picture, left) witnessed that people who consumed onions were asked to stay at the outskirts of the town and were not allowed to mingle with other people. After the ancient Indian physicians like Charak, Vagbhatt and Shushrut mentioned about the exceptional medicinal qualities of advantages of onions in Ayurveda, it slowly started getting popularity among Indians.
For many years the British, too, had shunned onions from their menu owing to its pungent smell. It was the outbreak of plague in 1350 that transformed their disliking towards onions. It so happened that during this epidemic termed as ‘Black Death’, thousands of British lost their lives. Surprisingly, onion traders were somehow miraculously saved from this epidemic. This incident established a strong belief in the minds of the populace that onions were actually good for health. Gradually, onion was added as an ingredient in various cuisines worldwide.

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From where does the sweet water come inside coconut? What is its role?

Clusters of coconut palms thrive on the seashore outside the tidal zone provided there is plenty of subterranean fresh water.
As the fresh water assimilated by the roots is conveyed right up to the crowns of the coconut palms through osmosis process, any dissolved salts which exist in the subterranean water automatically get eliminated through this natural filtration. Fresh water that gets accumulated in coconut is actually ‘endosperm’ or the food or nourishment for the coconut’s growth. It is not that Nature has provided only coconut with endosperm. Nature has provided such endosperm to seeds of all the fruits in the form of glucose and starch for nourishing the embryo existing in the seed.
Nourishing endosperm is in the liquid form in the initial stage of the green coconut. After some weeks the liquid form starts transforming into the creamy tissue that starts depositing on the coconut’s inner surface. By the time soft creamy layer of tissue becomes the hard ‘copra’, the erstwhile endospern would have become clean coconut water.

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What is miracle fruit that turns sour food sweet?

While on an expedition in the interior parts of South Africa in 1725, Chevalier des Marchais, a European explorer, noticed that the inhabitants of that particular region would eat a particular fruit prior to their meals. Deseeding that fruit and chewing it for nearly two minutes before consuming their food was their daily ritual. Being a botanist, Chevalier des Marchais was aware of various types of fruits but was completely unaware of this unusual fruit. After being eaten prior to any food, this fruits converts the flavor of the food and enhances its perceived sweetness; no matter whatever its original taste would be. The only criterion is that the food eaten after consuming the fruit should be a bit sour; and if not, it was required to add a few drops of lime juice to allow the fruit formulate its sweetness on the taste buds. Botanically known as Synsepalum dulcificum, this fruit is popularly known as the miracle fruit. (See photo below.) The fruit, however, did not gain commercial significance outside Africa, as it is highly perishable and has a shelf life of hardly a few hours after being plucked.
Miracle Fruit

Nearly after three centuries since it was discovered by Chevalier des Marchais, the miracle fruit is now widely used by Japan. The Japanese restaurants serve it to the customers after lunch or dinner, but before the round of desserts, be it ice cream, pudding, lemon cake, etc. The actual taste of the miracle fruit is hardly sweet (its taste is similar to Indian gooseberry) and yet it converts the citric taste of pineapple or even the sour taste of lemon to an absolute sugary feel. As a matter of fact, the chemical composition of the lemon does not change but it just changes the way the tongue and the taste buds react to it. The ‘sweet effect’, however, lasts for only 15 to 60 minutes after which the taste buds can not be ‘deceived’ and work normally.
So, how does the miracle fruit change the natural properties of the taste buds? That’s really a tough question. Even learned scientists do not have a perfect answer but their guess attributes this ‘sweet deceit’ to miraculin, a glycoprotein present in the fruit that changes the taste. The radicals present in miraculin react with and change the shape of the cells present on the tongue that identify the sour taste and modify them to the pattern of those cells that identify the sweet taste. Yes, for this reaction to take place the food consumed should have a little sourness in it.
A commercial attempt of segregating the miraculin from the fruit and selling it in tablet form was made in 1970. These tablets were even commercially sold for a short time in the USA. However, it was not officially acknowledged as a substitute of sugar by the US Government, which tagged its sales as illegitimate. It is said that that farmers producing and reaping sugarcane along with the owners of sugar factories pressurized the US Government to not give this African fruit an official status, which turned its commercial task ‘sour’.

Additional reading:
Miracle fruit – Synsepalum dulcificum (Wikipedia)

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Which is the least nutritious fruit?

Cucumber! A kilogram of cucumber has merely 130 calories and hardly any minerals and vitamin C. Moreover, it has 96.3% water content. According to botanists, cucumber though used as a salad, falls under the category of fruits.

A British chef once described a recipe, keeping in mind the nutrition value of cucumber: “First peel the cucumber, cut it into nearly 4 millimeter thick slices, arrange these slices in a serving dish, pour a little vinegar on it, and then throw them out of the window. Why eat a cucumber instead of a cake, when hungry?”

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Which is the most nutritious fruit among those commonly eaten raw?

Undoubtedly, it is avocado, a fruit native to tropical Central America and introduced into India probably in the beginning of the 19th century. The first cultivators were the Aztec, the people of Mexico who were conquered by Spaniards about 400 years ago.

Because of the high oil content, avocado (also called alligator pear) has the highest calorific value. Per edible 100 grams, it gives 163 kilocalories besides some vitamins and 2.2% protein. A fair-sized avocado weighing about 450 grams is equivalent to a standard loaf of bread in terms of calories. A few varieties of avocado are grown principally in South India.

A person who eats avocado may not relish it at first, because the fruit seems to lack adequate sweetness and flavor. Nevertheless, in western countries avocado is a fruit of choice because of its nutritive value. People usually prefer to buy ripened fruits. Incidentally, avocados don’t begin to ripen until after they are picked. So, one can unhesitatingly buy them even if they are rock-hard.

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