Sometimes, it's obvious what's a fruit and a vegetable. However, many fruits are actually vegetables, and vice versa. For example, botanically speaking, many popular "vegetables" like sweet peppers, tomatoes, and squash are actually fruits.
Read on if you are curious about what other fruits are mistaken for vegetables and vice versa. We've got some interesting facts to share.
But first, here are some common criteria people typically use to differentiate between a vegetable and a fruit
- Fruit can be consumed as a snack on its own, but a vegetable is a food item consumed as part of a meal.
- Fruits are perennials that grow on trees or shrubbery, while vegetables are annual crops that grow close to the ground or in the soil.
- Fruits generally taste sweet or sour, while veggies are milder and savory.
Related Read: Seasonal Produce Guide.
What are the scientific parameters for differentiating between a fruit and a vegetable?
1. A fruit develops from the flower of a plant.
In botany, a fruit is a pretty specific part of a plant. It develops from a mature, ripened flowering plant ovary. The fruit always contains the seed of the plant. So any produce with seeds in it is a fruit.
Think of a vegetable that you now realize is actually a fruit. Cucumbers, avocados, green beans, tomatillos, okra, sweet peppers, sweet corn, and olives will quickly come to mind.
Going by the logic of fruit being the parts of plants that house seeds, some fruits may be harder to identify. Take strawberries, for example; their fruits are tiny, seedy things embedded in the flesh. They contain the real seeds, while the flesh you eat is an extension of the flowering parts of the plant.
2. A veggie is any edible part of a plant other than the fruit.
Most people hear vegetables and immediately imagine leafy greens like lettuce, kale, chard, and cabbages, but there's much more to it.
A vegetable is literally any part of a plant you can consume that doesn't house its seeds. That's why we have flower vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, stem vegetables like asparagus, and root vegetables like carrots and radishes.
While all consumable plant parts that grow underground are classified as root crops, there are subcategories of true roots like potatoes and non-roots like onions.
Do people ever confuse a veggie for a fruit? Yes. Rhubarb and figs are famous examples. What about coconuts? When you crack open a coconut, it has no seed, that doesn't make it a vegetable. The whitish part we consume is the seed.
Vegetables That Are Actually Fruits
1. The Cucurbitaceae family
All types of squash, including the pumpkin, summer squash, and winter squash, are fruits. They belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes cucumbers, zucchini, melon, chayote, and watermelons.
There are over 970 species in the Cucurbitaceae family. Some are ornamental plants, but the edible ones are referred to as vegetables in culinary language. So it's unsurprising to find them labeled as such, even in scientific discussions.
2. Avocado, tomato and eggplant
Avocados, originating from Central America, are just extra large berries with a single seed. On the other hand, eggplants are berries, tomatoes, and peppers too.
Native to South America, the tomato is particularly interesting. In 1893, the United States Supreme Court ruled tomatoes are vegetables but contain seeds and are botanically fruits1.
Fun fact – strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries do not actually belong to the botanical family of berries at all.
3. Leguminosae family
Green peas and broccoli are memorable as dreaded veggies parents force their kids to eat. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines even classify the green pea as a starchy vegetable.
However, all kinds of peas and beans, such as string beans (green beans) and soybeans, are fruits. The beans are the seeds, while pods are technically fruit. So when you eat string beans with their pods, you eat fruit and seeds.
Some pods are inedible, like those of the garden pea and the black-eyed pea, so we only consume the seeds.
4. Caryopses family
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, corn is either a grain or vegetable2, depending on when it is harvested. Mature, dry corn is a grain, while fresh, soft corn is a starchy veggie. However, corn is a botanical fruit because it develops from a flower.
Each kernel is a fruit, with the fleshy part fused tightly with a single seed pod. We call them caryopses (grains), and all cereal grains except buckwheat belong to this family.
5. Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)
Okra is quite an edible plant. You can consume the leaves, flowers, stems, and buds. Those parts are botanically correct as vegetables. However, the seed-bearing part of the okra plant, which consists of a pod and seeds, is a fruit.
Fruits That Are Actually Vegetables
Most people regard the fig as a fruit but as a flower vegetable. The fig flower doesn't bloom outward. Instead, it grows densely packed inside its shell.
Those packed flowers form a false fruit we enjoy as figs. That's why you never see a fig tree with a conventional flower.
2. Rhubarb stems
Take rhubarb, for example; it is a popular dessert ingredient with a fruity taste. Botanically speaking, it is a perennial vegetable because the stalk is the only edible part of the plant. But in 1947, the U.S. Customs Court ruled it to be legally a fruit.
Fruit vs. Vegetable Balance
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily. In light of this article, you may wonder if your meals are balanced. They probably are since the word vegetable has become more of a culinary term than a nutritional description.
However, we suggest you reduce your dependence on foods like cucumber, avocados, pumpkin, and eggplant for veggie intake. Instead, increase your intake of leafy greens and root and flower vegs.
Note that no fruit or vegetable can provide all the necessary nutrients, so do your best to consume a wide variety.
Conclusion: Fruits That Are Vegetables And Vice Versa
Any part of a plant that contains a seed is a fruit, while any other edible part of the plant is a vegetable.
Isn't it interesting to discover that much of what you know as vegetables are actually fruits and vice versa? Olives, tomatoes, okra, pumpkins, and eggplants are as much fruit as peaches and oranges.