Vegetables don’t exist, as far as botanists are concerned, and they aren’t afraid to turn our entire world upside-down to tell us about it. We throw the word vegetable around without giving it much thought because from the time we learned to hate them, we have always been told that’s what they are. Cucumbers, squash, green peppers, avocados, and eggplant are all vegetables right? That’s what my momma said. Well, my momma was wrong. Turns out we’ve all been lied to our entire lives and the lie runs generations deep.
According to the botanists (folks who study plants), many of the foods we think are vegetables are actually fruits due to the simple fact they have seeds. The simplest definition of a fruit is a structure which bears the seeds of a plant. If you remember back to biology class, the term for a structure that contains seeds is an ovary. So, the fruit you’re eating is actually the ovary of the plant.
Taking it a step further and revealing yet another life-long lie, botanists say the actual term vegetable has no place or meaning in their world of botany. Sounds like the place to be. The simplest classifications are based on the particular location of the food on the plant. For example, there are fruits (foods with seeds), stems (celery and rhubarb), leaves (lettuce, kale, spinach, cabbage), buds (cauliflower and broccoli), and roots (beets, carrots, and potatoes). Add to your list of fruits string beans, corn kernels, okra, jalapeno peppers, serrano peppers, and tomatoes. Some of us uncovered the tomato lie years ago, some of us still live in denial. We haven’t been completely and utterly off the mark when it comes to naming our food, however. Turns out legumes are a family of plants classified by their same types of fruits — beans. We just now have to live with the fact these beans are actually fruits.
Now that your whole understanding of what a vegetable is has been shattered to bits, let’s throw another earth shattering truth out there. You may want to take a seat for this one. Strawberries, blackberries, mulberries, and raspberries aren’t berries, but tomatoes, eggplants, watermelon, bananas, and chili peppers are. What?? Let’s back up a minute to explain. Berries are another type of fruit — a fleshy fruit with multiple seeds embedded in their fleshy middle. Grapes are berries because they have a single fleshy middle containing seeds. Blackberries, mulberries, and raspberries on the other hand, have multiple fleshy middles called fruitlets that all remain separate but fused. These are called aggregate fruits.
Strawberries are in a league of their own because their seeds are on the outside of the fleshy center. They’re called accessory fruits.
So, to sum things up, beans are fruits, strawberries aren’t berries but eggplants are, cucumbers are fruits, kale and spinach aren’t vegetables because vegetables don’t exist, and tomatoes are definitely fruits. Got it?