Wahle tomato

Tomatoes are botanically a fruit but considered a vegetable because of their culinary use.

Here are a few little known facts about fruits that you may enjoy.

Wahle mug

Elizabeth Wahle

Are “thornless” blackberries really thorn free?

Blackberries and raspberries have prickles instead of thorns. Prickles differ from thorns in that they are not connected to the vascular tissue, and arise from the bark or epidermis of the plant, rather than from the wood. So, although it’s a misnomer to say “thornless” blackberries, it rolls off the tongue much smoother than “prickleless” blackberries.

What is the difference between a fruit and a vegetable?

The difference between a fruit and a vegetable is in their culinary use. The confusion between the two terms exists because “fruit” also refers to the mature ovary of a plant, consisting of the seeds and their covering. By this definition alone, vegetable crops such as sweet corn, snap beans, okra, peppers, and tomatoes qualify as a fruit. In terms of use, fruits are usually consumed as a dessert item and vegetables are usually consumed with the main course. Although a use definition works to differentiate most fruits and vegetables, there is always the exception, like rhubarb, watermelon, winter melons, and cantaloupe. What’s your vote—are they a fruit or a vegetable?

Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?

As you learned from the question above, tomatoes are botanically a fruit but considered a vegetable because of their culinary use. But, did you know that in 1887 this debate was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court in Nix v. Heden? The main issue was the protection of the American farmer. If tomatoes were a vegetable, they could be taxed when imported, giving the American farmer the competitive advantage over foreign imports. In the final decision, the U.S. Supreme Court did recognize that tomatoes were botanically a fruit, but ruled in favor of the American farmer with the decision that because of its use, tomatoes were to be considered a vegetable.

What is the difference between a pumpkin, a winter squash, a summer squash, and a gourd?

With few exceptions, the groups differ largely in culinary characteristics and the age of rind when picked. Summer squash are usually eaten as a vegetable, and are picked when the rind is immature and soft, and the plant is still living. Examples of this group are zucchini and crookneck squash. In comparison, winter squash are also eaten as a vegetable, but they are harvested after the plants have died and the rinds have matured and become hard. Examples of this group include butternut and acorn squash. Pumpkins can be described like winter squash, except pumpkins are usually not eaten as a vegetable, but are harvested for their ornamental value. Pumpkins usually have a hollow seed cavity and a thick rind that is suitable for carving into Jack-o-lanterns. Gourds are similar to pumpkins, in that they are used for their ornamental value. Their rinds are much harder, making them less suitable for carving, and more suitable for tool making. There is a long history of gourds being made into items such as bowls, dippers, and oil lamps.

Elizabeth Wahle is a University of Illinois Extension educator, commercial agriculture, horticulture.


Load comments