Peppers – vegetable or fruit?

By Carol / August 13, 2014 /
Vegetables or fruits?

Vegetables or fruits?

There are NO vegetables. Everything we call a vegetable is actually a fruit. So said the host of the TV show On The Spot this past weekend.

What? I’m a farm kid. I grew up around agriculture and spent most of my professional career in public relations working with clients who served the ag industry. I had never heard this before.

This was such a provocative statement, stated so definitively, that I had to do the research. First stop: Wikipedia. The answer was fascinating, taking into account botany, the culinary arts, and the law.

Botanically – (upon which On The Spot must have made its pronouncement) – the ovary of a flowering plant is the fruit. Since both fruits (peaches, plums, oranges) and vegetables (eggplants, bell peppers, tomatoes) come from the flowering part of the plant, they are botanically speaking all really fruits. 

Culinary – In the grocery story and kitchen, fruits and vegetables are mutually exclusive. Fruits are the edible part of the plant with a sweet flavor. Vegetables are the edible part of a plant with a savory flavor.

Legally – When in doubt, the law may intervene as it did with the tomato in Nix v Hedden, a case argued before the Supreme Court in 1893. The outcome? The tomato is a vegetable. The case had such import because commodities are taxed as vegetables in particular jurisdictions and pocketbooks would hurt depending on where the tomato came down.

To be fair to the Supreme Court justices, while they declared the tomato a vegetable for tax purposes, they acknowledged it was botanically a fruit. How’s that for standing firmly on both sides of the debate?

My research didn’t stop with Wikipedia (a cautionary tale for all). The Mayo Clinic points out there really are vegetables – those foods that come from parts of the plant other than the flower, e.g. celery (stem), lettuce (leaves), and beets, carrots and potatoes (roots.)

All this may be a bit of a diversion, but we writers like to be precise in our use of language. And as one speaker arguing for a classical education opined, It’s important to know the rules before you break them.

Offering another, particularly timely, perspective on the topic, a Facebook post weighed in on the topic today: Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

I know all this new-found knowledge/wisdom will come into play in my writing at some point. I can hardly wait.

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  1. Sharon Lippincott on August 14, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    Carol, I love exploring pinhead angels and our family sport is stretching things to the absurd. Well done, we must be related. Within the past three months the topic of fruits vs. vegetables was dinner table conversation for several days running. You’ve taken things even further. And yay for pointing out how it applies to writing.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on August 14, 2014 at 10:23 pm

      Thanks for indulging my diversion into the silly, Sharon. Seems like a worthwhile August activity.

      • Sharon Lippincott on August 15, 2014 at 8:43 am

        BTW, this extreme focus probably already has come into play in your writing. It applies in so many ways, but especially documentable detail. As a beta reader I recently pointed out to a friend that (among other things) her main character could not have pondered the purchase of a succulent tomato in 14th century Ireland. They were unknown outside South America at that time.

        I’m having to redefine a character in a WIP after learning that no search and rescue helicopter service I can find in the state of California has more than one chopper. I put him in a second. Guess he’ll have to die another way because it’s important that he die after arriving a few minutes late for work because of an early morning dalliance that will cause his grieving widow massive guilt. And then there’s all that word choice stuff. Fun, fun, fun.

        BTW, I’m wondering now, would vegetarians more properly be called fruititarians?

        • Carol Bodensteiner on August 15, 2014 at 9:00 am

          A love of research and attention to detail did come into play in my novel Go Away Home. I had to adapt my story when I learned that transmitting photographs from Europe to the United States could not have been done in the manner and time frame I needed them to. You’re right, Sharon, that’s part of the fun of writing.

          Fruititarians? Why not? We make up words all the time. Another tidbit: In researching the fruits/vegetable question I learned that the word “veggie” was first used in 1955.

  2. Tracy Lee Karner on August 17, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    Fun take on the old question. So, have you let the On The Spot host know about this error?

    By the way, you’re on my blog this week.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on August 17, 2014 at 5:33 pm

      I just found a contact and have sent a message. It will be interesting to see if they respond.

      I look forward to seeing your post, Tracy. Thanks for showcasing my blog.

  3. Doreen Pendgracs on August 22, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    What an insightful post, Carol! I’d never heard that some people are calling peppers fruits, although I can see why, based on the flower to fruit connection. Love the fruit salad quote!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on August 22, 2014 at 3:11 pm

      Hi, Doreen, Thanks for dropping by. So far I’ve only heard the host of “On The Spot” suggest that peppers are fruits, but he was broadcasting far and wide. And it was fun to play with.

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