You say “toe-may-toe,” I say “toe-mah-toe.” I say a tomato is a fruit. You say it’s a vegetable. Which one of us is right?

Before we can figure out exactly what a tomato is, let’s first take a look at what fruits and vegetables are. As it turns out, there are a couple of different ways to define each.

Scientists define fruits as the parts of a plant that bear seeds. Cooks define fruits as the edible parts of a plant with a sweet flavor.

On the other hand, cooks define vegetables as the edible parts of a plant with a savory flavor. These can include, for example, the leaves (lettuce), stems (celery), roots (carrots) and flowers (broccoli) of plants. Scientists have no specific definition for vegetables.

Using these definitions, we can begin to answer the question of whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable. According to scientists, tomatoes are clearly fruits, since they are the part of the tomato plant that bears seeds.

Cooks, however, often classify tomatoes as vegetables since they are the edible part of the tomato plant and have a savory rather than sweet taste.

In case you’re wondering, savory is one of the five basic tastes — along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Savory is a pleasant “meaty” taste with a lasting coating on the tongue.

So is this just one of those curious questions without any real significance? No!

The question of whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable actually made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court! In the 1893 case of Nix v. Hedden, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, for purposes of the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883, tomatoes are vegetables.

The Supreme Court relied on the fact that tomatoes are usually used as vegetables since they’re normally served with dinner and not dessert. The ruling, though, only applied to tax law and did not attempt to reclassify tomatoes scientifically.

When all is said and done, tomatoes are fruits according to scientists. However, many people — and most cooks — will continue to look at them as vegetables.

And if you’re wondering if tomatoes are the only fruits that get treated like vegetables, they’re not! Eggplants, bell peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and pumpkins are all fruits that similarly get cooked as vegetables.

Some states have particular feelings about tomatoes, though. New Jersey officially named the tomato its state vegetable. Arkansas, on the other hand, saw both sides of the issue when it declared the South Arkansas Vine Ripe Pink Tomato as the official state fruit and state vegetable!

 

27 Join the Discussion

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    • Thanks for another GREAT comment, Lauren! It seems everyone but scientists consider tomatoes to be a vegetable. Scientists classify tomatoes as fruits. We think they’re pretty tasty no matter how they’re classified! :-)

    • Thanks so much for letting us know, Carolyn! Because we use videos from different places across the internet to accompany each Wonder of the Day®, unfortunately sometimes people change the privacy settings on videos they’ve created. We will get another video up for this Wonder very soon! Thanks for being such a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

  1. When I was younger, I used to always WONDER this. Now I know tomatoes are a fruit, but I don’t like tomatoes AT ALL! I hope you guys have a WONDERful Day!

    • It’s AWESOME that you learned something fun about tomatoes by exploring this Wonder about them, Emma! We’re sorry you don’t care for tomatoes. They are AWESOME in so many different recipes! They are used to make pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce…even ketchup! :-)

  2. I love this video so much because I love tomatoes so much! I used to think tomatoes are vegetables but now I know they are really fruits. I think that is why my lunch ladies puts in tomatoes in my fruit.

    • We really like tomatoes here in Wonderopolis, too, Julie! Thanks so much for hanging out with us today and learning some cool new things!

    • How cool that you like tomatoes, Tatum! It’s funny, because we often think of fruits as very sweet types of food! But lo and behold, tomatoes are a fruit! We are glad you enjoy tomatoes– they are a great snack and they’re very good for you, too! :)

    • We’re big fans of veggies here at Wonderopolis, Taylor! We love your comment- veggies ROCK! We hope you have a stellar and veggie-tastic day! :)

    • YUM! We Wonder if you have a favorite recipe that features your favorite red fruit, Taylor? We love to cook here at Wonderopolis! :)

  3. Thanks Wonderopolis for explaining why a tomato is classified as a fruit but is called a vegetable. I told students to go home tonight and tell their parents what they had learned.

    • HOORAY, that’s music to our ears, Tammy! Thank you for sharing your comment and how you and your WONDERful students have used Wonderopolis in the classroom! We look forward to your students sharing the Wonder at the dinner table this weekend! :)

  4. I always thought that tomatoes are a vegetable but now I think they are both. I mean, I don’t get how they are fruits.

    • We all learned something new thanks to our tomato Wonder, Kitty Kat! Check out the excerpt below for more information about these fruits:

      “Scientists define fruits as the parts of a plant that bear seeds. Cooks define fruits as the edible parts of a plant with a sweet flavor.
      On the other hand, cooks define vegetables as the edible parts of a plant with a savory flavor. These can include, for example, the leaves (lettuce), stems (celery), roots (carrots) and flowers (broccoli) of plants. Scientists have no specific definition for vegetables.
      Using these definitions, we can begin to answer the question of whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable. According to scientists, tomatoes are clearly fruits, since they are the part of the tomato plant that bears seeds.” :)

    • Thanks so much for weighing in, Thomas! We’re curious, what do you consider squash or cucumbers? Are they vegetables or fruit? :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Are tomatoes fruits or vegetables?
  • What are the five basic tastes?
  • Are there any other fruits that are treated like vegetables?

Wonder Gallery

kid eats tomatoe_shutterstock_49065022Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Enough worrying about whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable! The one thing that most everyone can agree on is this: Tomatoes are delicious.

Head to the store for some fresh or canned tomatoes, and then settle down in the kitchen to try out one or more of these great tomato recipes:

 

Still Wondering

Do you eat enough fruits and vegetables? Explore Science NetLinks’ Nutrition 2: Good Food, Good Health lesson to explore ways in which food provides energy and materials for our bodies.

 

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