Originally, I was going to write a long, detailed article about a new type of squash I encountered in the garden, however in the midst of telling a friend about this idea we got into a discussion about the technical differences between fruits and vegetables. The answer surprised me. Sure, we’ve all heard about how a tomato is technically a fruit, usually from some know-it-all kid in elementary school who posed the question in such a way to embarrass anyone who didn’t know the answer. What this kid in elementary school probably didn’t tell you was why a tomato is a fruit.
Fruits develop from the flower of any plant, whereas vegetables are any other part of the plant; this usually means the leaves, stems or root. Working in the garden certainly helps with understanding how each plant grows, but just from shopping in the super market one can discern what is a fruit and what is a vegetable. Anything with a stem is probably a fruit. For example: peppers, both bell and hot, are fruits because they develop out of the flower of the plant, same goes for tomatoes, squashes, cucumbers, beans, and peas. Don’t worry; potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, and broccoli are still vegetables. Rhubarb, although generally paired with fruits like strawberries, is technically a vegetable because the useful part of the plant is the stems.
These may seem like trivial botanical facts for plant nerds like myself, but thinking about which vegetables are botanically fruits forces us to reexamine our relationship to food. It mends the gap between our thinking about food and plants that plagues those of us that get the majority of our food from grocery stores. When you ask yourself whether what you are eating is a fruit or a vegetable, you’re asking about the plant it stems from (pun intended). This gets us thinking about our food in new and exciting ways.