When I hear this question I immediately think back to my 5th grade teacher telling the class something about having seeds or not. Where were you when you first questioned this? I think we will explore this a little deeper just for the fun of it.
What does Alex Trebek say?
When this ageless question came across the infamous blue screens I fell in love with the answer. I remembered the whole fruits have seeds and vegetables do not” statement. However all I could think about was what about cucumbers. When Alex Trabeck explained that a fruit continues to ripen once picked, and a vegetable starts to rot I was sold. This sounded so intelligent. All of the vegetables that I knew of would go right into the refrigerator, while fruits (even the savory ones like tomato and avocado) would be left on the counter to ripen. As good as this sounds I wonder does Alex know everything?
Could there be more to this than Jeopardy?
After years of telling the Jeopardy theory to everyone in an attempt to sound smart I thought maybe I should look into it. When the word was created in the 15th century it meant “any plant”. Scientist of today that choose to speak in such a broad sense still use “vegetable” this way. In a culinary sense it means plant derived food with a savory (non-sweet) flavor. Chefs and grocers everywhere would say a fruit is a plant derived food of a sweet flavor.
What about the “one has seeds and the other does not” theory?
In the world of botany (the science of plants) it is not very beneficial to use the adjective vegetable. This is due to the vague nature of the term. Remember from the second paragraph it still means “all plants” to scientists. Fruits are parts of flowering plants that derive from specific tissues of the flower, mainly one or more ovaries. Fruits are the means by which many plants disseminate seeds (so yes all fruits have seeds). This means both savory and sweet plant parts that fall in this category. Two examples of savory fruits are avocado and cucumber. For the rest of the plant derived foods that the grocery store would tell us are “vegetables” there are many other terms. I will give you some examples. Carrots are roots. Potatoes are tubers. Mushrooms are fungus (not plant derived at all so never called a vegetable by a scientist).
This is getting confusing:
So it is starting to seem like there is no one answer. Here are several of the answers that we have found so far,
- Fruit (botany): the ovary of a flowering plant (sometimes including accessory structures)
- Fruit (culinary): any edible part of a plant with a sweet flavor
- Vegetable (botany) plant part used for food
- Vegetable (culinary): any edible part of a plant with a savory flavor
- Vegetable (legal): commodities that are taxed as vegetables in a particular jurisdiction
I’ll tell you what I think:
I trust the botanist. This is their field of expertise. So “what is the difference between a fruit and vegetable?”. Nothing a fruit is a vegetable. Does this mean I will stop using the word vegetable in the culinary sense? NO way! I still like to make my life as convenient as possible.