A Fruit or Vegetable?

As you shop for your Thanksgiving dinner, you might be interested to know what is scientifically a fruit and a vegetable. It will at least make you sound smart at the dinner table. Intrepid Naturalist Chuck Welsh has the details.

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Q. So what seems to be filling your mailbox these days?

A. Been getting lots of inquiries about the science of things that pertain to the upcoming holiday of Feasts.

Q. What do folks expect a naturalist to know about food?

A. There seems to a strong interest in determining the difference between fruits and vegetables. .

Q. Is there a scientific distinction?

A. Thatís a great question because the answer is quite interesting and detailed. But lets start simple. Although terribly obvious, both fruits and vegetable are plants. But it helps organize our thoughts. But in a commercial and culinary sense fruits tend to be sweet and associated with desserts. Vegetables are usually served with the entrÈe or as a side dish.

Q. Ok sure but is there a scientific distinction?

A. This is where it gets interesting. The term fruit actually means the product of fertilization between male and female plants. That is, the ripened ovary where the seed is. Commercially we extend that to the edible fleshy part associated with protection, nourishment, and dispersal of the seeds. Like apples or grapes. However, by that definition, cucumbers, peppers, and zucchini are actually fruits.

Q. What about vegetables?

A. The term carries no scientific meaning. Itís purely culinary and commercial. But many of the vegetables that are not botanically fruits are associated with the stems, leaves, and roots of plants. Like broccoli, lettuce, and carrots.

Q. I used to hear a lot about tomatoes being a fruit not a vegetable.

A. Well by our definition they are technically fruits but in 1893 the Supreme court ruled that the tomato is a vegetable because they were eaten as entrÈe and so they could charge a tariff on them. Thatís why the tomato fruit/vegetable debate remains in our culture.

Q. I understand you are also getting inquires about turkeys, chickens and other like minded foul?

A. Often get question pertaining to the evolutionary history and classification of turkeys and how chickens. Chickens and Turkeys are not each others closest relative. Wild turkeys are endemic to N. America whereas chickens are domesticated from Asian guinea fowl.

But they both belong to a group called the gallanacious birds which also includes pheasants and quail.


Q. So do you any recordings for us?

A. Yes. I captured a gobbler squawking just recently.

Have questions for Our Intrepid Naturalist? Write chuck@alleghenyfront.org