Most of us would answer that question without no hesitation when asked about foods like tomatoes, peas, olives, rhubarb, watermelon and pepper. But guess what, life is full of surprises! Culinary speaking, you might be right, but botanically speaking, not so much.
Well then, how can you differ a vegetable from a fruit?
The basic rule is that if an eatable plant with roots, stems and leaves is seedless, it is categorized as a vegetable, but if it is a seed-bearing structure, developing from the ovary of a flowering plant, it’s classified as a fruit.
In that reference, for example many people would freely say that tomato, pea, cucumber and pepper are all vegetables, and though they are eaten as such, from a scientific point of view that’s wrong, as those foods are in fact fruits!
If these news are a shock for you too, and you’ve been living with such false convictions, don’t worry, because you’re definitely not the only one, because there are millions all over the world who are in the same shoes as you.
For example, a research in Britain featuring an excerpt of 480 adults showed that 91% of the people think that pepper is a vegetable, barely 1% knew that peas in a pod are actually a fruit, while 97% were astounded by the fact that eggplants and olives are officially considered fruits.
Statistics also state that 93% falsely think pumpkin is a vegetable, 4% know that butternut squash is a fruit, and 51% are aware that tomatoes are actually a fruit. Besides, there are many who incorrectly identify avocados and cucumbers as veggies, while technically they are fruits.
People get confused about the identification of vegetables and fruits mostly because these certain fruits we’re talking about, are often eaten as veggies with savoury meals. For many years, chefs have been using peas, cucumbers, tomatoes and pepper as vegetables in their recipes, namely because their taste suits dishes that aren’t sweet.
There are certain plant species that are considered both a fruit and a vegetable.
Good examples for such foods are the watermelon and the rhubarb. Watermelon originates from a South African vine. The watermelon fruit is loosely thought to be a type of melon (though not in the genus Cucumis). It has a smooth, hard, greenish exterior and a sweet, juicy, usually red interior flesh, where also its seeds are situated. Because of its deep sweet taste and revitalizing properties, consumers usually eat watermelon as a fruit.
But why is watermelon also believed to be a vegetable?
According to Webster’s dictionary, you can classify something as a vegetable if it is obtained or made from plant (2004). It is a member of the cucurbitaceae plant family of gourds, to which pumpkin, squash and cucumber belong too.
Watermelon is grown as a veggie crop, utilizing vegetable production systems, as it is planted from seeds, harvested, and then cleared from the field like other vegetables. Because of that, watermelon is also acknowledged as a vegetable (Wolford, 2004). In which cases is watermelon used as a vegetable? Generally when its rind is consumed. In some countries like China, the rind is pickled, stewed, or stir-fried. In Russia, pickled watermelon rind is a common canned delicacy too.
We cleared the air around watermelons when it comes to fruit/vegetable classification, but what about rhubarb? Rhubarb is a plant name combining the many different species of Rheum that are native to China, Tibet, as well as cultivated in the US and Europe.
A close relative to garden sorrel, it has large leaves with thick succulent stalks and big fleshy rhizomes. Officially, the plant is categorized as a vegetable and has been used for its medicinal qualities for 2000 years, and nowadays it is becoming widely used in the culinary world. Despite being officially a veggie, due to its unique, sweet taste, rhubarb often finds its place in many sweet courses such as muffins, pies, jellies, jams, juices, sauces and other. This is the reason it is consumed as a fruit.