The tomato is a versatile food found in many types of cuisines internationally. They can be incorporated into a number of main dishes, side dishes and even beverages.
You can trace the origin of tomatoes back to South America thousands of years ago, where wild tomato species grew in Ecuador, Peru, northern Chile, and the Galapagos Islands.
Despite our growing knowledge about the origins, culinary uses and health benefits of tomatoes, we continue to ask the age-old question – are tomatoes a fruit or vegetable?
We commonly refer to tomatoes as a vegetable due to their use in savory dishes, but it is indeed a fruit.
The Botany of Tomatoes
To understand why tomatoes are a fruit, we must start with defining the botanical classifications for fruits and vegetables.
Fruit-bearing is a part of the natural life cycle of a flowering plant. Once a flower gets pollinated, a fruit (or plant ovary) develops to surround and protect seeds until they are spread by animals or the environment.
A vegetable, on the other hand, has a looser definition as an edible portion of a plant. This can include the leaves, stem, roots, tubers, bulb, or flower of the plant.
Tomatoes can grow on bushes or vines and develop yellow flowers once the plant is mature for pollination. Once the flowers are pollinated, the flowers of the plant typically drop off and a tomato begins growing in its place.
If you cut open a ripening tomato, you can see within its chambers a number of seeds. Therefore, tomatoes meet the botanical requirements to be classified as fruit, despite not sharing many flavor characteristics with other fruits.
Going deeper into the botanical classifications, tomatoes are technically berries because they are fleshy fruits without pits that develop from a single flower with only one ovary.
Now that you know how tomatoes are botanically fruits, let’s talk about how they became legally classified as vegetables. The answer is a bit stranger than what you would imagine.
To put it simply, we can thank the Supreme Court of the United States and some simple linguistics.
Nix v Hedden, 1893
In the United States, tomatoes are one of the few foods that required a Supreme Court ruling to determine its classification.
Its classification was important because it determined the amount of taxes that importers of fruits and vegetables would have to pay on tomatoes.
Years prior to the initial filing of the suit, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883 into law. This act required produce shippers to pay an import tax on vegetables but not fruit.
John Nix was founder of one of the largest produce sellers at the time in New York City and filed a claim against Edward L. Hedden, the Collector of the Port of New York, for having to unfairly pay the vegetable tax on tomatoes.
In this 1893 case, Nix argued that because tomatoes were botanically classified as fruits, he shouldn’t have to pay the vegetable tax.
While the Supreme Court did acknowledge the botanical origins of the tomato as a “fruit of the vine,” its classification was ultimately ruled as a vegetable.
Tomatoes differed from other fruits because they are served with the main meal instead of dessert, and the public already generally thought of tomatoes as a vegetable. There was no evidence that the words “fruit” or “vegetable” had any special meaning in trade or commerce, so the common language interpretation of a tomato prevailed.
Ever since this case, tomatoes have been classified as a vegetable by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.
No matter if you call tomatoes a fruit or vegetable, they are a delicious addition to meals. The proper variety of tomato can provide unique flavors and visual appeal for your enjoyment.
NatureSweet Eclipse tomatoes are a premium variety of tomatoes that offers bold flavors and a beautiful color to elevate any dish you choose. A single bite of a NatureSweet Eclipses tomato will have you experiencing a total eclipse of your taste buds.