Are Tomatoes Fruits or Vegetables?


Are Tomatoes Fruits or Vegetables?

In my essay last week, I wrote about how fruits and vegetables can be a beneficial part of your diet and your well-being. Online I learned that one of them, the tomato, has an annual production of 60 million tons, 16 million more than the second most popular fruit, bananas; and apples are the third. The “Joy of Cooking” cookbook lists 64 tomato recipes.

An article written by K. Annabelle Smith, which was originally published in Smithsonian Magazine, with the intriguing title “Why the Tomato Was Feared in Europe for More Than 200 Years” got my attention.

Tomatoes originated in South and Central America at about 700 A.D., and have had a very interesting journey. They were brought to Europe after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs Empire. In the article about tomatoes, I learned that while tomatoes are fruit that are botanically classified as berries, they are commonly used as vegetables. This is perhaps why in 1893, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Mother Nature by declaring tomatoes were not fruits, but vegetables. 

When the heart-shaped red species arrived in Italy, they were considered an aphrodisiac and were given the name “poma amoris” – “love apples”. Meanwhile, in the late 1700s, a large percentage of Europeans were calling the fruit “poison apple”. Turned out that many aristocrats who ate tomatoes got sick and some died. However, the problem was from the pewter plates, which were high in lead content. Because tomatoes are high in acidity, they would leach lead from the plate. What saved and rehabilitated tomatoes was the invention of pizza in Naples around 1880. American colonists considered tomato poisonous as well, until September 1820, when Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson stood on the steps of the Salem New Jersey Courthouse and ate an entire basket of tomatoes without any negative effects to his health.

Most of us are familiar with the processed fruit, which is harvested by machines while still green. Some producers even shape tomatoes in squares for more productive packaging. I personally prefer Heirloom Tomatoes, which I’ve purchased at farmers markets and in specialty stores. Smelling them brings back a memory of my childhood. When I was a teenager, a group of us broke into someone’s greenhouse and stole big ripe tomatoes that we then threw at each other. As a teenager, I also liked to drink tomato juice which was sold at local vegetable stores. The last time we used tomato juice was some years ago to give our corgi dog a bath, after he was sprayed by a skunk.

P.S. Besides their nutritional value, tomatoes serve as a great photo subject for me. You can see my artistic development process from the tomato that I photographed on a branch in our neighborhood to the photo-image, which can be printed in a large size and hung as an art piece in your kitchen.

Enjoy and Share with A Friend!

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