When the Coastal Carolina Fair comes to town, I get excited because that means Flower Shows and time to demonstrate some garden expertise in a friendly competition. Flower Show is actually not a really good description because there are also design competitions, plants that don’t flower, fruits and vegetables on display. I don’t only enter different things into different categories; I have been assisting in plant identification and placement of the entries as they come in.
The fair just recently ended, it was a blast as usual. However, this year there came to light an interesting problem. We have produce that has an identity crisis!! Here is the story.
I was setting up Section S, Vegetables, Fruits, and Nuts (insert your own joke), and we got a watermelon in to be displayed. The owner had it entered in the "any other fruit" category because they thought there was not a specific place for it. As I was moving things around, I realized that there WAS a watermelon category, under the vegetables!
I thought, okay, there was a major boo-boo in the printing in the show schedule. When I asked about it, they told me that botanically, it is a vegetable. I already knew that tomatoes were classified in the fruit section. SO, I had to do some research and find out if I was living in Bizzaro World!!
Photo Courtesy of: http://livinginbizarroworld.blogspot.com/
It’s true that watermelon and other melons like the honeydew and cantaloupe (which are fruits) are in the Cucurbitaceous family, but the watermelon is in the Citrullus genus, which is an important distinction between the two types of produce. I know that is a lot of fancy jargon, let’s break it down a little. The dictionary defines “fruit” as “the ripened ovary (pistil) of a seed plant and its contents, which includes the seeds.” This includes things like apples, oranges, and cherries. These are ripened ovaries that include seeds of the plant that bore them. A broader definition of a fruit is anything that contains seeds.
Sounds easy, right? Well, under that definition, squash and green beans would be considered fruits, even though most people would consider them vegetables. The dictionary defines a vegetable as “anything made or obtained from plants.” Basically, that means all fruits are also vegetables. To further clarify the vegetable family, most people consider vegetables to be the leaves, stems, stalks, and roots of certain plants, which helps to define why celery, carrots, lettuce, and onions are all, unequivocally, vegetables.
Okay, now it gets confusing.
The “rules” over what is or is not a vegetable are not really set in stone and are often open to interpretation. In many cases, the distinction is made based on how the produce is used and how it tastes. This is referred to as a culinary distinction. Using these culinary distinctions, things that are low in sugar and are of a savory taste are considered vegetables, and things that are sweeter are then considered fruits.
SO, Bell peppers and tomatoes are considered vegetables because they’re savory and low in sugar, even though they have seeds, which technically make them fruits. Pumpkins, cucumbers, and squash are all fruits because they have seeds. However, in a culinary sense, these items are all vegetables. So, basically "fruit" and "vegetable" are defined differently depending on whether you're a gardener or a chef.
The fruit vs. vegetable debate can sometimes reach such a fervor that the law must step in. In the 1893 United States Supreme Court case Nix. v. Hedden, the court ruled unanimously that an imported tomato should be taxed as a vegetable, rather than as a (less taxed) fruit. The court acknowledged that a tomato is a botanical fruit, but went with what they called the "ordinary" definitions of fruit and vegetable — the ones used in the kitchen.
Okay, if all of this is not bad enough, we all know that anything with “berry” in its name is basically a fruit, right? WELL, despite its name, the strawberry isn't a true berry. Neither is the raspberry or the blackberry. But the banana, it turns out, is a berry, scientifically speaking, so are eggplants, grapes, and oranges. To be considered a berry, a fruit must have two or more seeds. Thus, a cherry, which has just one seed, doesn't make the berry cut, rather, cherries, like other fleshy fruit with thin skin and a central stone that contains a seed, are called drupes. HOWEVER, you might be inclined to call it a vegetable, thanks to its green hue and savory taste, but the avocado is technically a fruit, and even more specifically, a single-seeded berry.
Ready to scream yet?
Did you know that apples, pears, and quince actually belong to the rose family?
That my friends is fodder for another day!
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