Monday, May 14, 2007

Fruit vs. Vegetable

For as long as I can remember, Leopold and I have been buttin’ heads on the subject of the tomato – is it a vegetable or a fruit? Chompski doesn’t give a damn one way or another as long as it makes a decent Bloody Mary. But I had to get to the bottom of this, for my own piece of mind (and to prove my hard-headed brother wrong).

I did some digging and found out that botanically speaking, a tomato is a fruit. What makes a fruit a fruit? – if it has seeds. So, since the tomato has seeds, it’s classified as a fruit – which also makes cucumbers, squash, green beans and walnuts fruits as well.

But legally speaking, the tomato is a vegetable. Legally? You heard me right. In 1893, the little bugger made it all the way to the Supreme Court. In a nutshell: back then imported vegetables were subject to tariffs. The case originated in 1887 when the Nix Family sued a tax collector to recover back duties that had been collected on their tomatoes – which the Nix Family considered to be a fruit and therefore not subject to taxes. Fast forward to 1893 and the Supreme Court finally ruled that, in the eyes of the law, tomatoes were vegetables:

“Botanically, tomatoes are considered a fruit of the vine.... But in common language of people, whether sellers or consumers of provisions, all these are vegetables which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, eaten cooked or raw, are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not like fruits generally, as dessert.”

So there you have it. Next time you’re at a loss for interesting small talk at a party, you can throw our your bit of tomato trivia to impress the ladies.

Oh, and by the way, I was right – legally. But Leopold was right, too. Damn.