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Fruit or vegetable?

Veronica vrg at post1.com
Tue Jan 21 12:22:36 EST 1997

I think it's important to see this in the appropriate context.  The
word "fruit" has at least two contexts (there are others, but two that
are relevant here): a technical botanical context and a culinary
context; "vegetable" is strictly a culinary term with no botanical
meaning.  So, if we are discussing technical, botanical terminology,
green beans, for example, are (immature) fruits; okra, tomato,
eggplant, corn (maize) kernels, and numerous other, generally
seed-containing, plant structures are fruits.  Obviously, this runs
counter to the more common, culinary distinctions where each of these
would clearly be considered as vegetables.  

In general, _to a botanist or plant biologist_, fruits are the
seed-containing structures of plants.  I say in general because some
fruits are seedless: banana, navel orange, pineapple, a few others.
All flowering plants make a fruit of some kind by this technical
definition of a fruit.  For example, the winged seeds of maples,
acorns of oaks, the wind-blown seeds of dandelions, grass seeds, are
all fruits.  Nuts are a slightly different case.  Mainly, the parts of
nuts that we eat -- almond, walnut, hazelnut, pistachio kernels -- are
seeds; in most cases, the fruits (in the technical sense) include the
shells and husk or hulls that enclose them, but are removed by growers
and processors.  Cashew is an interesting case:  the nut is the seed,
of course, but the fruit (cashew apple) comprises a sweet, succulent
part that is eaten in the tropics were cashews are grown.

So, I have to disagree with Scott at least with regard to his
"botanical" definition of vegetable.  AFAIK, while botanists do define
fruit quite precisely, there is no "botanical" definition of a
vegetable.  In fact, the word vegetable is not listed in the Concise
Oxford Dictionary of Botany, my desktop reference on the subject.  The
term belongs in the culinary realm, where it includes many items of
produce that a botanist will consider as fruit.  

For what it's worth, it's sometimes interesting to consider exactly
what plant parts comprise our vegetables:  broccoli and cauliflower
are young flower clusters that haven't opened yet,  asparagus is a
young stem that hasn't expanded yet, artichokes are flower buds of a
thisle-like plant, potatoes aren't roots at all but tubers or
underground stems.  

srussell at ou.edu (Scott D. Russell) wrote:

>In article <cigam-2001971938320001 at evt-mx100-ip129.halcyon.com>, cigam at halcyon.com (Judy Larson) wrote:
>>I'm not sure this is the right news group for my question, but I'll give
>>it a try.  My family and I have been having a discussion as to what
>>parameters are used to categorize fruits and vegetables.  Do all fruits
>>come from blossoms?  What about beans and peas?  Are nuts considered
>>fruits?  Are legumes vegetables or are they in their own category?
>According to the botanical definitions of fruit and vegetable, if the organ is 
>a vegetative part (root, stem or leaf), it is a vegetable.  If it is derived 
>from an ovary (female reproductive structure of the flower), then it is a 
>Beans are therefore clearly fruits by this definition, since they include the 
>ovary wall. Peas are derived from the fruit and would be called seeds.  Under 
>this kind of categorization, nuts are fruits, and legumes need no special 
>Notice, color has nothing to do with the category, nor do any taste 
>attributes, unlike the "grocery store definitions" of fruit and vegetable!
>Scott D. Russell                     Internet:  srussell at ou.edu
>Dept of Botany & Microbiology      ->http://www.ou.edu/cas/botany-micro/
> & Noble Electron Microscopy Lab   ->http://www.ou.edu/research/electron/
>University of Oklahoma, Norman OK    Phone:  1-405-325-6234
> 73019-0245   USA                    FAX:    1-405-325-7619

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