Strange Fruit

by Quinn

With the boy having been packed off to school for the start of the new term it is time for the exciting relaunch of The Obscurer, and today I am going to get back into the swing of blogging by using my skilfulled, crafty prose to tackle one of – if not the – most important matter concerning us all in these immature years of the 21st century. That is to say, the tomato: fruit or vegetable?

We can all remember, no doubt, that day in our early childhood when a world of sure certainties was rocked to the core by the discovery that the tomato, hitherto considered a vegetable, is in fact a fruit, thus shattering the comfortable “fruit=sweet, vegetable=savoury” thesis that formed the cornerstone of what was then almost our entire understanding of cuisine. Since then we have grown upwards, perhaps outwards, and hopefully wiser, but we have never forgotten that quirky foodie exception: the tomato, the fruit that acts like a vegetable.

But with time the status of the tomato has begun to puzzle me more and more. Sure it’s a fruit, I can understand that; but why is it almost uniquely considered to be such an oddity; why is it placed on a pedestal? If a tomato is considered a fruit and not a vegetable then what of cucumbers, peppers, aubergines? By the same definition they are just as fruity as tomatoes, so why is it always the strange case of the tomato that stands out and is so unimaginatively invoked? And if these three and others, such as butternut squashes and courgettes, are also to be thought of a fruits (and they are) then this insistent “tomato is a fruit, actually” argument seems to kick off a whole scary development for me. For while we’re at it, aren’t peas and beans considered pulses? And aren’t even potatoes more rightfully tubers? Will this revision of the tomato’s standing begin a worrying chain of events that can only lead downwards, inexorably downwards, until one wonders if there is anything left in the world that can truly be considered a vegetable at all? Is there, in fact, such a thing as a vegetable, really? And if such a fundamental is questioned, if there are, after all, no vegetables, then wither humankind?

In recent years this disturbing trend has become if anything even more pronounced, where every truism has turned out to be a lie and where you simply don’t know what to believe anymore. I blame QI. Because what sort of world are we living in where strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are not berries, yet avocados and pomegranates apparently are. Or take a simple bag of mixed nuts (nuts being fruit, of course, lest we forget), containing, say, peanuts, cashews, almonds, macadamia and brazil nuts. Ho-ho, we laugh as we spot the “may contain nuts” warning on the side of the packet; only we shouldn’t be laughing because while it may contain nuts, unless a stray hazelnut or similar has fallen into the bag in error it shouldn’t contain nuts. Rather we are holding a bag of assorted seeds, drupes, kernels, capsules and legumes, and so if all has gone according to plan there won’t be a genuine nut in sight. And what’s that? Really? Oh right. News just in: it appears that a cranberry isn’t a berry either, but…what…a tomato is! I might have fucking well known! The bloody tomato! That’s what kicked this whole thing off in the first place. Right, that’s it, I’ve had enough! Before someone tells me that that a cow is a type of cacti and that rabbits are kettles I’m going to hold onto what little sanity I have left by going back to the beginning, to that simpler, happier time when I knew what was what and the world wasn’t crumbling around my ears. In other words I’m reverting to my sweet/savoury definition of what is or is not a fruit; I’m deciding that a tomato is a vegetable and that is that, and anyone who disagrees with me is a pedant, a dullard and a stinking wanker.

But just for sport – because it won’t change what I think – let’s check out what Wikipedia has to say on the subject. Ah, this looks promising

The term fruit has many different meanings depending on context. In botany, a fruit is the ripened ovary—together with seeds—of a flowering plant. In many species, the fruit incorporates the ripened ovary and the surrounding tissues. Fruits are the means by which flowering plants disseminate seeds.[1] In cuisine, when food items are called “fruit”, the term is most often used for those plant fruits that are edible and sweet and fleshy, examples of which include plums, apples and oranges.

And this

The term “vegetable” generally means the edible parts of plants. The definition of the word is traditional rather than scientific, however. Therefore the usage is somewhat arbitrary and subjective, as it is determined by individual cultural customs of food selection and food preparation… In general, vegetables are regarded by cooks as being suitable for savory or salted dishes, rather than sweet dishes, although there are many exceptions, such as pumpkin pie.

So

Though it is botanically a berry, a subset of fruit, the tomato is nutritionally categorized as a vegetable (see below). Since “vegetable” is not a botanical term, there is no contradiction in a plant part being a fruit botanically while still being considered a vegetable…the term “vegetable” has no botanical meaning and is purely a culinary term.

They even include this handy cut-out-and-keep guide to carry with you wherever you go. You know, just in case.

Thank you, Wikipedia, some common sense at last, and I apologise if I have ever cast doubt on the veracity of some of your entries in the past. Now I feel truly free to call a spade a spade and a tomato a vegetable, to put a stop to this nonsense once and for all; for it turns out while it may very well be right to call the tomato a fruit, it is wrong to say that it isn’t a vegetable.

Next Time: why Jaffa Cakes are biscuits.

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