Thursday, October 11, 2007
For centuries, scientists and philosophers have debated the Big Questions. Now, finally, we have an answer to one of these age-old conundrums: is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? (SPOILER ALERT: the next paragraph contains the answer to this question.)
Shockingly, the tomato is apparently a fruit. Of course, linguists have long suspected this since the word "tomato" comes from the Latin expression, "Tu Mater" which literally means "Fruit Bearer" and figuratively means "Fruit of the Womb."
Are you wondering WHY experts consider the tomato to be a fruit? Well, it turns out that there are four (4) scientific reasons often cited by those "in the know." (Hint: it is not just because they are red.)
1. Tomatoes grow on trees. Much like other fruits such as oranges and canteloupes, most varieties of tomatoes can be plucked directly from the branch when ripe. Tomato vines, despite being technically barkless, are still trees since they grow upwards from the ground in the direction of the prevailing winds. Vegetables such as green beans and iceberg lettuce do not grow on trees.
2. Tomatoes have seeds. Seeds are used to grow new tomato plants from existing tomatoes, a reproduction method similar to that of apples or pomegranates--both fruits. Potatoes, which are not fruits, do not reproduce using the "seed" method.
3. Tomatoes have skin. The skin of a tomato is the outer layer that protects the more delicate inner layers of the fruit including the aforementioned seeds. You can remove the skin of a tomato by "peeling" the skin away from the inner layers, a process similar to peeling a banana or grape--both fruits. Okra and mushrooms, which are not fruits, have no skin and thus cannot be successfully peeled.
4. Tomatoes have juice. The juice is the liquid contained in the inner layers of the tomato. This juice is both nutritious and also useful. All fruits produce juice, which is where we get fruit juice. The popular drink V8 (named for the powerful automotive engine) is labeled "vegetable juice" on the product packaging, but this is a misstatement of fact since tomatoes are actually fruits. V8 is therefore, in reality, fruit juice.
5. Tomatoes are genetically fruits. Scientists unraveling the genes of tomatoes have announced that DNA evidence indicates tomatoes contain the fruit gene. This effectively closes the case on the age-old debate as to whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables.
But what, you may ask, about the landmark 1893 Supreme Court decision classifying tomatoes as vegetables? An excellent question. In Nix v. Hedden, the Court ruled that tomatoes must be classified as vegetables due to their inclusion in ketchup, which was considered a vegetable for school lunch classification purposes. However, subsequent research revealed that the number-one non-aqueous ingredient in ketchup was high-fructose corn syrup, and fructose is by definition fruit sugar. Hence, ketchup itself is not actually a vegetable but a fruit.
Do you have a Big Question? Send it to the fact experts at firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe you'll get the answer you need.