Fruit and vegetables, what is the difference?

Experiencing the diverse tastes of fruit and vegetables everyday, knowing which is which might be taken for granted. However, there is much confusion about these terms. Furthermore, many true fruits are often regarded to be vegetables and vice versa. So, what is the difference between a fruit and a vegetable?

fruit and vegetables Fruit and vegetables, what is the difference?

Many vegetables are biologically speaking actually fruits, while strictly speaking some culinary fruits may also be not be true fruits.

The meaning of the words fruit and vegetables are largely based on culinary and cultural tradition. In grocery-store language the words “fruit” and “vegetable” are mutually exclusive – plant products that are fruit are hardly classified as vegetables. Fruit normally means the fleshy, sweet seed-associated structures of a plant, while a vegetable usually means the edible plant or part of a plant other than a fruit or seed.

difference fruit and vegetables Fruit and vegetables, what is the difference?

The difference and not true disctintion between fruits and vegetables

From a biologically point of view however, a fruit is a plant structure that contains its seed. Strictly speaking, the word “fruit” is only used if it comes from the part of the flower which was an ovary, the fleshy part of the flower around the seeds. In this sense there are fruits which are not true fruits since they are not totally derived from the ovary, for example figs, pineapples and strawberries. These are therefore called accessory fruits.

Cereals such as corn, wheat and rice are also technically fruits. However, since the fruit wall is very thin and fused to the seed the are better considered just cereals. Also nuts are fruits from a biological point of view in which the ovary wall becomes very hard.

There are many true fruits which are generally treated as vegetables, mainly because they are not sweet. Just to name a few: cucumber, pumpkin, corn, eggplant, tomatoes, avocado, peas and beans. However, these “culinary vegetables” are thus actually “botanically fruits” because they are the ovary of a flower.

Mature flower diagram Fruit and vegetables, what is the difference?

A diagram of a flower, showing the ovary. Photo by wikipedia

So in essence, from a cultural and culinary point of view fruits and vegetables are seen as two distinct categories, while from a biological view many plant parts usually called vegetables are actually fruits. Depending on the point of view, many plant parts can thus be seen as either vegetable or fruit. This double meaning is best expressed in a 1893 court case which addressed whether a tomato was classified as a fruit or a vegetable. Unanimously it was decided that the tomato was classified as a vegetable, while the judge also acknowledged that tomatoes are botanically classified as fruits.

Still wondering if a specific fruit might be a vegetable or vice versa? Ask your question in the comments!

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Jolle Jolles

Written by Jolle Jolles

Jolle Jolles is a zoologist working at the University of Cambridge with a love for natural history and animal behaviour and enjoys fascinating others about our weird and wonderful natural world. Follow Jolle on Twitter or sent him a personal message.

  • ju

    i had a lecture on botanics at the university where the prof told us the difference as follows:
    if the plant lives for 1 or 2 years its a vegtable if it lasts longer its a fruit.
    fegs vegetables: tomato, pumpkin, beans, carot, radish, turnips….
    fruit: apple, pear, plum, banana, pineapple, grapes, lemons….

    the only plant where she said people aren’t content with this definition is the mellon which is a vegtable by this definition

    • http://mudfooted.com Jolle Jolles

      Thanks Judith for your comment. I have not heard about that criteria before, however it may fit well between the culinary and biological description :)

  • http://facebook.com mapette loon

    want to have more info :)

  • Divine Wepia Santuah

    Are you a scientist? I am in Primary 6 and I will be happy if you can mail me the biological names of some fruits that may also be regarded as vegetables.

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  • Emily

    Im really not all that edgucated in differences between fruits and vegedables but a conversation with my dad that started in my classroom had us both wondering he differences this helped a lot as did a few other sites we checked

  • http://no Hassan-kafi Abdi

    scientifically speaking it might be enough.. but normally to understand in context to normal life, still i don’t have the exact difference between these two..

    :)

  • Shalini

    Will the following be treated as vegetables or fruits?cucumber,lady’s finger,beans,gourds,eggplant……. Please confirm.

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  • Zorrek

    seeds on the inside = fruit
    seeds on the outside = vegtable

    Strawberry is an accessory fruit (read not a real fruit therefore a vegtable) as it has seeds on the outside

    • mudfooted

      Yes, if it has seeds on the outside it cannot biologically be the fruit (=ovary). The seeds on the outside of a strawberry are actually the ovaries, therefore the strawberry would indeed be a vegetable, but for culinary reasons it is called an accessory fruit :)