Is tomato a fruit?
The tomato is one of the most popular and most consumed vegetables in the Mediterranean diet. Our colourful protagonist is associated with summer, refreshing gazpacho, salad, and as a base in all kinds of open sandwiches. So, why do we ask if it’s a fruit?
fresh food3 August 2018
Most people consider the tomato to be a vegetable rather than a fruit, and it is identified as such in shops and supermarkets. But from a botanical point of view, the tomato is not a vegetable, it is a fruit.
The fruit of the tomato plant belong to the solanaceae, a family of herbaceous plants which have 98 genera and around 2700 species but, watch out! As well as the delicious tomatoes, they include poisonous species like mandrakes.
Solanum lycopersicum is the scientific name given to the tomato, its origin is found in Central and South America and it was first used as a food 2500 years ago, in Mexico. There, the natives called them tomatl, and later, jitomate. With the discovery of America, the tomato crossed the Atlantic and arrived in our recipe books along with other essential products such as potatoes, courgettes and corn.
The tomato, fruit or vegetable?
Whether the tomato is a fruit or vegetable is a well-known question. This old debate began because the food definition and the botanical definition don’t always coincide, as is the case here. For scientists, the tomato is clearly a fruit, given that it grows from a pollinated flower and its flesh protects the tiny seeds inside it. This explanation also applies to other foods such as courgette, pepper, or pumpkin. Now, the food sector disagrees with the consideration of the tomato as a fruit. The classification guidelines situate the tomato within the vegetable category - greens and vegetables-. This is because, in the 19th Century, a Supreme Court judgement in the United States established emphatically that the tomato was a vegetable.
This is how the -legal- debate began
In 1886, a boat with a large shipment of imported tomatoes docked in the port of New York. This was shortly after a law that placed a tax on imported vegetables had been approved, but the tariff didn't apply to fruit. The companies working with this kind of food argued that they were exempt from paying the tax because tomato was a fruit. To argue it, they got together biologists and encyclopaedias that showed that the tomato was actually classified as a fruit.
The Government argued that this product was not eaten as a dessert, since it was an ingredient served in salads, sauces, or as a garnish. Therefore, it was a vegetable and the importers had no choice but to meet the tax obligations.
This product offers a wide range of varieties, enabling its use in a multitude of cooking possibilities, as well as in salads, gazpachos, juices, tomato sauce etc. The nutritional value of the tomato is also an interesting topic, this fruit or vegetable contains very few calories, carotenoids with antioxidant power, potassium, vitamins A and C, and lycopenes (which are responsible for its red colour).