Wikipedia defines a fruit as: “The structure of a plant that contains its seeds.” Technically speaking the tomato is a fruit. But how is this possible since many of us were raised thinking of a Tomato as a vegetable? We find the tomato in our local grocery store on the same shelves as other vegetables. And when cooking, the tomato is listed as a culinary vegetable?
It’s true, even in my youth I was known to defend the tomato as the vegetable of choice, but sadly I was misguided. By taste the tomato seems more like a carrot than an orange. We use it in salads, in salsas, as a sauce for our spaghetti and French Fries, and place cherry tomatoes on the veggie tray with the Ranch Dressing. Actually, it’s for these very reasons we think of this misfit fruit as a vegetable.
In 1893 the US Supreme Court settled the debate; the tomato would be considered a vegetable despite overwhelming evidence of to the contrary. The ruling was necessary due to the Tariff Act of 1883 which imposed a new tax on imported vegetables. As no official classification had been established it was left to The Collector of the Port to distinguish fruit from veggie, and at the Port of New York taxes were not being collected on tomatoes. This didn’t sit well with government officials.
The case was debated in lower courts but finally was settled before the Supreme Court in a unanimous vote. The justices sided with the culinary classification rather than the botanic. The tomato was to be taxed with the vegetables because; they were usually eaten as a main course instead of being eaten as a dessert.
Along with the tomato many other fruits have been classified in this way. A few are the pumpkin, cucumber, zucchini and other squashes, grains such as wheat and corn, peas, and some funguses.
Whether vegetable or fruit you have to agree, the vine ripened tomato is the garden king.
*Reference: US Supreme Court Nix vs. Hedden, 149 U.S. 304