When is a fruit not a fruit? When it’s a tomato…which is also a vegetable...

When I was buying our groceries this week I found out that it’s week 2 of British Tomato Fortnight (it ends on 2 June 2019). For years, I mainly associated tomatoes with summer salads. I actually grew up thinking I hated tomatoes: every time I was given a salad, it had tomatoes on it. (Along with the obligatory boiled egg and limp lettuce leaf.) (I grew up thinking I hated salads too.)

While I loved the colour of tomatoes, and the taste was okay, I really disliked the squidgy bit in the middle, with the seeds. If only someone had explained to me earlier that tomatoes are actually fruits as well as vegetables, I might have coped with them a little better. It did explain why my mother used to insist on adding a little sprinkling of sugar to make them palatable.

It wasn’t until a homestay experience, when the family fed me real tomatoes, freshly picked from their garden, that I realised tomatoes weren’t that bad after all, although they did bring me out in spots temporarily. After that, I was happy to eat dishes which included tomatoes as an ingredient, as long as they’d been cooked. When I moved into my first flat I was delighted to find out that the tiny little suntrap patio in the equally tiny postage stamp garden was perfect for growing tomatoes, even in Britain’s notoriously damp and windy climate.

So why do we mainly use tomatoes as a vegetable, not a fruit? Well, part of it has to be down to the taste: most fruits are noticeably sweet when you eat them, with a couple of exceptions like grapefruit and lemons. Tomatoes have a slightly acidic taste, just as olives, another fruit that is often treated as a vegetable, have quite an “umami” taste.

Tomatoes aren’t the only fruit that we use mainly as a vegetable – others include cucumbers, peppers, and pumpkins (although you’ll find those in both sweet and savoury dishes). And while avocados are used as one of the essential ingredients of guacamole, another savoury dish, and are very popular on toast currently, they’re also, technically, a fruit, as are aubergines (also called eggplants).

So what makes a fruit a fruit, and a vegetable a vegetable? Well, fruits bear seeds; they develop from flowering plants, from the ovary to be precise. What are vegetables? All other plant parts, including leaves, stems and roots, are vegetables. So that makes a tomato a fruit, just like apples, berries, and squash.
What dishes have you enjoyed featuring tomatoes during the last fortnight? For more on food, have a look at our great bilingual titles Yum! Let’s Eat and our newest addition, Food, Food, Fabulous Food.

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What's the Difference Between a Fruit and a Vegetable? (2012), LiveScience , https://www.livescience.com/33991-difference-fruits-vegetables.html, 12 June 2012 (accessed 30 May 2019)