By Gaurav Sett ’19
Remember when we first heard that tomatoes are fruits, not vegetables? Okay, me neither. And what if I told you that bananas are berries? And strawberries are not? Where’s your god now? Alright, maybe that information won’t help you eat or cook or do anything related to food, but it will at least make you sound smart, so listen up.
According to Britannica, a berry is a small, pulpy, and often edible fruit that does not have a stone or pit, although many pips or seeds may be present. Furthermore, berries should have three separate layers: the outer skin, the fleshy middle, and the innermost part with the seeds. Under this definition, grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, bananas, watermelons, chilli peppers, avocados, p
umpkins, kiwis, and oranges are all berries.
However, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are not actually berries. While it might seem that something called a berry would be a berry, sometimes things don’t work the way they should. Judy Jernstedt, professor of plant sciences at the University of California, writes that people called certain fruits berries for thousands of years before scientists gave the word a more specific definition. But what even is a fruit? Thanks for asking. LiveScience writes that “a fruit is a seed-bearing structure that develops from the ovary of a flowering plant.”
That leaves us with vegetables, which are are all other plant parts: roots, leaves and stems. In the culinary world, however, rules are meaningless. Foods that are botanically fruits, but are savory and not sweet, are typically considered vegetables by many chefs. Thus, chefs will shamelessly call eggplants, bell peppers and tomatoes vegetables, despite being absolutely wrong.
You probably would not be surprised to hear that there have been lawsuits over food categorization debate. In 1883, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883, requiring a tax to be paid on imported vegetables, but not fruit. A decade later, the Supreme Court heard a case revolving around whether an imported tomato could avoid the tariff because it is a fruit. The case known as Nix. v. Hedden, the court ruling unanimously found that tomatoes are fruits; although, they decided that the intent of the tariff was to tax fruits and vegetables under the common definition of vegetables which are the foods that “were usually eaten as a main course instead of being eaten as a dessert.”