It’s been called a super food, a functional food, and just plain delicious. It’s the tomato, and it has an abundance of vitamins and nutrients that help keep our bodies moving, from lycopene (which may help ward off some chronic disease) and beta-carotene to Vitamin C.
It should be a regular part of your diet. But if you’re big into food classification, you might be wondering—is a tomato a fruit? Is it a vegetable? Or is it some weird hybrid of the two?
The answer is that it depends on who’s asking. In the world of botany, a fruit is defined as the part that develops from the fertilized ovary of a flower. Vegetables are the edible parts of plants that aren’t fruits. By this definition, the tomato is a fruit.
Botanists, however, don’t have the last word on the subject. In 1893, the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to decide whether a tomato was a fruit or a vegetable after importer John Nix was slapped with a 10 percent import tax on vegetables coming in to New York’s Port Authority. He argued the botanical definition, but the judges disagreed, ruling that in the “common language of the people, whether sellers or consumers of provisions,” the tomato was a vegetable.
Nutritionists in particular like to categorize the tomato as a vegetable because it lacks the abundance of fructose (sugar) found in many fruits like oranges and apples. In less formal terms, fruits are also classified based on their ability to be incorporated into desserts due to their sweetness. There’s a reason we have apple pie and not broccoli pie.
So is the tomato a fruit? As a seeded growth, yes. Nutritionally, no. If you want to stick to the legal term, according to Nix’s case, the tomato is a vegetable. He couldn’t prove otherwise. Then again, it might depend on where you live. Tennessee made it the official state fruit, while New Jersey calls it the official state vegetable. Arkansas played both sides of the fence by declaring the tomato both the state fruit and the state vegetable.