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Layman’s Guide to Understanding the Difference Between Fruits and Vegetables

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It is actually far easier to understand the difference between fruits and vegetables than most people think. The best part is that once you know the difference, you’ll probably never again be puzzled by whether something is a fruit or a vegetable.

What the difference is not

A lot of people try to differentiate between fruits and vegetables by saying that fruits are used in desserts and vegetables aren’t. With a little thought, it is easy to see that this doesn’t work very well.

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Pumpkins, which are fruits, can be cooked into soup, baked as a side dish, or added to main dishes. Yet, it can also be made into pie. This would mean that using the ‘used in desserts’ definition, a pumpkin would be both a fruit and a vegetable.

The same could be said of sweet potatoes, which are vegetables that can be made into a very agreeable pie. Rhubarb, also a vegetable, is normally used in desserts or as a sauce to have with bread, biscuits, pancakes, or similar.

Even using sweetness as a measure of the difference won’t work. Grapes, watermelon, plums, and bananas are all fruits and are all sweet. However, pie cherries are tart, rhubarb is tart, lemons and limes are sour, and chokecherries are sour-bitter, yet all are fruits.

What is the real difference?

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Some people have suggested that fruits have something to do with the seeds, and they are right, but it needs more explanation. After all, corn is a vegetable, yet it is the seeds that we eat. (Actually, corn is a grain rather than a vegetable.) So what is a fruit?

There are some really good but quite technical definitions of fruits. The problem is that if something is too technical, many people will have a hard time understanding it. Here is a simple and understandable definition of fruit, though:

Fruit: A structure which encloses or contains the seeds of flowering plants.

What this means

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Using this simple definition, it becomes easy to see that tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers, pumpkins, cherries, apples, peaches, plums, apricots, blackberries, grapes, blueberries, thimbleberries, squashes, and pears are all fruits. Strawberries are also fruits, although the seeds are on the outside of the strawberry, because it is the structure that contains the seeds that is eaten.

As a side note that won’t be explained here, strawberries are fruits, but they aren’t berries. Watermelons, which are fruits, are berries.


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Vegetables are simply anything that isn’t a fruit. The part of rhubarb that is eaten is the leaf stalks, so it is a vegetable. The same is true of potatoes, lettuce, chard, beets, globe artichokes, turnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and so forth.

It is interesting to note that in the case of broccoli, cauliflower, and globe artichokes, it is the immature flower that is eaten. If these are allowed to mature, they produce fruit, but the fruit isn’t eaten. Not all fruit is edible.

This makes it relatively easy to tell the difference between a vegetable and a fruit. Fruits enclose or contain the seeds. Vegetables don’t.

Knowing this, if you now take the quiz on which are fruits and which are vegetables, you shouldn’t have any problem acing the quiz, provided that you know what the named fruit or vegetable is.


What do you think?

Written by Rex Trulove


    • The berry part has mostly to do with where the seeds are located. Another part is much more technical, but it is all botanically speaking since few people think of watermelons as berries even though they are.