Solving the Debate: Is a Tomato a Fruit or a Vegetable?

Each of us knows the taste of tomato very well. Botanically speaking, the tomato is a fleshy berry, which undoubtedly suggests its belonging to the category of fruit. However, due to its low sugar content, it is classified as a vegetable. So is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?

Solving the Debate: Is a Tomato a Fruit or a Vegetable?

The Botanical Classification: Tomatoes are Fruits

From a scientific and botanical point of view, a tomato is a vegetable whose edible part consists of sweet fruits called berries. The middle part of the tomato fruit is the so-called mesocarp. Mesocarp was formed from the walls of the ovary.

In contrast, the skin of the tomato was formed by the development of the skin. Skin covered the perianth pistil. So the tomatoes we eat are the fruits of the tomato plant.

The structure of the tomato flower
The structure of the tomato flower
The structure of the tomato fruit
The structure of the tomato fruit. The tomato, like other fruits, is a seed plant.

The tomato is a flowering plant with fleshy botanical fruits - berries. According to botanists, fruits are an edible reproductive body of a seed plant. A flower's ovary produces the botanical fruit, which has at least one seed. Therefore, even the floating dandelion puffs are also fruits.

The tomato plant can be grown in raised beds or as a potted plant on a windowsill or balcony as a flowering plant. Growing tomatoes is not demanding. That is why you can grow your edible fruits with a little effort. You also do not need to use special tomato fertilizer. Organic fertilizer like compost is enough.

Other vegetables from nightshade family with edible fruits
Other vegetables of the nightshade family with edible fruits. The word "fruit" usually describes sweet and fleshy botanical fruits.

The Culinary Classification: Tomatoes are Vegetables

The nutritional classification of fruits and vegetables considers botany, use, taste, and nutrient content. Botanists consider many foods, such as tomatoes, as botanical fruit. However, there are certain differences between fruits and vegetables.

In general, high sugar content defines fruits. Vegetables tend to have lower sugar content than fruits.

From a nutritional and culinary perspective, many foods are considered vegetables, not fruit. Vegetables include those fruits that are not sweet or tart. Additionally, they must be commonly eaten with other vegetables.

Well-known certain botanical fruits that are considered vegetables
Well-known certain botanical fruits are considered vegetables. Botanically speaking, a fruit is a ripened flower ovary and contains seeds.

Tomatoes are often alternatively used between fruit and vegetable. Despite the low sugar content, a botanical fruit like tomato is very often used in fruit salad and savoury dishes. It has a soft texture. Hence, tomatoes can be enjoyed raw as well. Culinary-speaking, vegetables have a tougher texture and usually require cooking.

Tomato fruit is also an excellent base for preserves, jams and sauces
Tomato fruit is also an excellent base for preserves, jams, and sauces. They are also typically snacks.

The classification of tomato plants and their belonging to vegetables is dictated by a small amount of sugars in the edible part and the useful purpose of the fruit. They are closely related to other fruit-vegetables like eggplant.

Botanical vs. Culinary Classification System of Tomatoes

An interesting fact is that even in the 19th century in the USA, tomatoes were considered a fruit.

On February 4, 1887, an action was brought against the collector of the port of New York to recover back duties paid under protest on tomatoes imported by the plaintiff from the West Indies in the spring of 1886.

U.S. Supreme Court decided to settle the dispute about whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable. In 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that tomatoes are vegetables. It happened when U.S. Supreme Court was ordering tariffs on fruit and vegetables (NIX v. HEDDEN, 149 U.S. 304). Back then, an import tax was levied on vegetables, not fruit. These activities aimed to protect American tomato growers from foreign competition.

Interestingly, Tennessee and Ohio still define tomatoes as their state fruit. In New Jersey, it is the state vegetable. So it can be said that the dispute 'Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?' from over a century ago never ended.

It would be a mistake to call tomato plants a fruit because we divide utility plants into, among others, vegetable plants and fruit plants (e.g., pears). The division into fruit and vegetables is also not used in the horticultural nomenclature.

In culinary classification, we can say that tomatoes are both a fruit and a vegetable.
Characteristics and properties of a tomato determining its belonging to a fruit or vegetable
Classification typeFruitVegetable
Botanical classification - depends on which part of the plant's edible part comes fromThe edible part is fruit - berries. They arise from the growing ovary of the pistil.The only edible part of a tomato is the ripe berries. The whole plant, including the unripe fruit, is poisonous. Fruits contain seeds, while vegetables can consist of roots, stems, and leaves.
The edible part is formed from the pollinated flower
The inflorescence of a tomato is a raceme
Culinary classification - depends on taste, texture and tartnessFleshy textureA milder, less sweet and more delicate flavor than fruit. The tomato is usually eaten as part of the main dish.
Large, juicy berries
Dietary classification - is dependent on the content of water and nutrients, mainly sugarsTypical fruits have a high carbohydrate content, which affects their intense, sweet taste and much higher caloric content than vegetables.High water content in the edible part.
Low in sugars (3.9 per 100 g)
Low in calories (18 kcal per 100g)

Summary - Tomatoes are Both Fruits and Vegetables

In conclusion, the tomato belongs to the nightshade vegetables that botanists believe produce edible and juicy berries. These features make the tomato unique; in terms of nutrition, they are considered vegetables.