We’re not shaming anyone here, there are multiple definitions of fruit and vegetables, and Healthy Gourmet is just here to clear things up. We explain what makes an edible plant a fruit and what makes it a vegetable below. To get straight to the point, here is a list of fruits you may have thought were vegetables.
List of fruits you thought were vegetables:
By a strictly botanical definition, these are considered fruits. By culinary definition, most of these are called vegetables, as they are used in savory cooking.
- Tomato – some know-it-all has told you this at some point in your life. Why is it considered a fruit? Because tomatoes form as a result of a flower. Flowers are reproductive organs of a plant, made up of the stigma, the style, and the ovary, which may contain one or more ovules. The stigma captures pollen, which travels down the style to fertilize the ovary. The result of this fertilization is the fruit, and the ovules become seeds within the tomato!
- Avocados – not your typical sweet fruit, but they meet the botanical definition. Avocado flowers are clumped together and feature a cool-looking layered design. When you cross your fingers for a smaller seed and more fleshy-green-goodness, you are basically defining the avocado as a fruit by noting its structure.
- Cucumbers – grow from little yellow flowers and contain seeds.
- Zucchini –grow from white or yellow flowers and contain seeds like the similar-looking cucumbers.
- Peppers – from mild to “I think I’m hallucinating” spicy, peppers are fruits that grow from flowers and contain seeds. Flowers are typically white, but they could be yellow, orange, red, or even violet depending on the variety.
- Pumpkins and their squash cousins – just because they grow along the ground does not mean pumpkins are not fruits. If you’ve carved a pumpkin, you know they carry tons of seeds. They originate from a brilliant yellowish-orange flower.
- Eggplant – from small, beautiful purple flowers with yellow stigma grows the mighty eggplant, which is full of tiny, numerous seeds.
- Olive – produced when their clumpy white and yellow flowers are pollinated. The perfect fruit for a martini.
- Okra – is produced from relatively large flowers with rose-like petals and a dark violet center. There is a beautiful pink flowered variety as well.
- “Nuts” – tree nuts and even legumes like peanuts barely make the list because they are more precisely defined as seeds produced in their respective fruits, but could be included as part of the fruit when making a very selective argument.
- Broccoli – you are technically eating immature flowers, so it’s not quite at the same stage as the fruits named above. The argument could be made that broccoli should be included in the list, albeit a pedantic and most likely fruitless one (see what I did there?).
These are definitely just vegetables (plant products that do not come from the plant’s pollinated flowers):
- All types of lettuce and spinach – just leaves and stems of the plant.
- Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower – broccoli and cauliflower were cultivated by humans in the early 6th century, so you could call them GMOs.
- Root veggies like potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and carrots – carrots have flowers, but the part we eat grows in the ground as a root.
- Edible plant stems like celery and asparagus – both produce flowers, but we just eat the stems.
- Onions, garlic, shallot – all produce flowers, some brilliantly large, but we just eat the bulbs. Scallions, or green onions, have a small bulb that we eat along with its leaves.
Bonus: List of fruit seeds that we call nuts:
Just to clear up any family arguments. We call these nuts culinarily-speaking, but they’re actually seeds of the fruit of their respective plants. Maybe we should have started naming these things consistently a long time ago, but we’re too far down the road at this point.
- Almonds, Pecans, Walnuts, Pine nuts, Cashews, Pistachios, Brazil nuts – edible seeds from the fruits of their respective trees.
- Peanuts, chickpeas, peas, lentils, soybeans – edible seeds of a legume, which grow in pods.
Definition of a fruit, botanically-speaking
A fruit is defined botanically-speaking as described above – the seed-laden outgrowth of a plant created by a fertilized flower. Tomatoes, peaches, cucumbers, and apples are all results of the fertilization (pollination) of their respective plant’s flowers. Ovules within the flower’s ovaries become the seeds within the fruit.
Definition of a vegetable, botanically-speaking
There isn’t one. Vegetable is an imprecise and unscientific word. Vegetable is a culinary term, used to describe parts of a plant used in savory cooking.
Definition of a fruit, culinarily-speaking:
A plant part that is sweet or sour tasting, and edible when raw.
Definition of a vegetable, culinarily-speaking:
Plant products that are less sweet-tasting and used in more savory cooking. Tomatoes typically fall into the vegetable category when speaking culinarily. The next time someone corrects your categorization of tomatoes, just tell them you were speaking culinarily, not botanically…. obviously.