"Did you know a tomato is really a fruit, not a vegetable?"Let's proclaim this Tizzy Tuesday, get all righteous and indignant, and lay this half-truth (/half-falsehood) to rest once and for all.
This Messy Mush of Muddled Meanings is, I assert, based on an erroneous conflation of two distinct uses of the word "fruit":
- Culinary: An edible plant product, usually sweet (though perhaps not necessarily so), that by convention, for cooking and eating purposes, is called a fruit.*
- Biological: "The ripened ovary or ovaries of a seed-bearing plant, together with accessory parts, containing the seeds and occurring in a wide variety of forms."
Note: This diagram indicates that culinary fruits are a subset of biological fruits—that if an item is a culinary fruit it is also necessarily a biological fruit—which I believe is the case. Can anyone think of a counterexample, a culinary fruit that is not a biological fruit? (No, not bananas. Bananas have itty-bitty little seeds.)
With our newly enlightened perspective, let's nitpick the initial tizzy-inducing statement to pieces:
First assertion: "a tomato is actually a fruit". Ambiguous—true in the biological sense; false in the culinary sense.Messy Muddled Mush of Meanings resolved. Statement debunked. Righteous indignation vented. (Whew! Thanks, I'm all better now.)
Second assertion: "a tomato is not a vegetable". False—vegetable soup with tomatoes? yum! fruit cake with tomatoes? blech!
Feel free to trot out this little gem during smalltalk at your next cocktail party. And don't forget the Venn diagrams. (And don't worry about the eye rolls, yawns, and derisive snorts. They're just jealous of your logico-linguistic savvy.)
* Yeah, this definition sounds a bit tautological: "It's a fruit if it's called a fruit," but isn't that really how it works? It's a (culinary) fruit if, by historical linguistic and culinary convention, we say it is. I can think of loose amalgamations of traits that tend to distinguish (culinary) fruits and vegetables (sweet vs. savory, etc.), but I can't think of any bright line distinction based on inherent qualities that unambiguously distinguishes the two. (As opposed to the biological definition of a fruit which is much more explicit: it's either a ripened ovary of a seed bearing plant, together with accessory parts, containing the seeds and occurring in a wide variety of forms; or it ain't.)
** Really, "culinary vegetable" is probably redundant since "vegetable", as best as I can figure, is a strictly culinary term and has no biological or other non-culinary usage; but I'll keep the qualifier in the interest of clarity and symmetry.