Is a tomato a fruit or vegetable? Settling the debate, once and for all

Scientifically it's a fruit, but legally it's a veggie. Here's why people are still confused.
by Lyn Mettler / / Source: TODAY

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It's a food debate as old as time: What, exactly, is a tomato?

Most home cooks use it like a vegetable but, technically speaking, it’s a fruit. In honor of National Tomato Day, let’s take a closer look.

Tomatoes
Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? It's time to settle the debate!STEPHEN GIBSON PHOTOHOME.CO.UK

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, botanically, a tomato is a fruit. This is because fruits contain seeds. Merriam Webster is in agreement:

But with its low sugar content and vitamin profile, tomatoes are considered by many nutritionists to be a vegetable. For example, the tomato is listed as a veggie on the USDA food guidelines for healthy eating.

The debate is so contentious that it's even made it to the highest court in the land.

In the late 1800s, the Supreme Court ruled that tomatoes are in fact vegetables. In the case of Nix v. Hedden, the Port of New York was looking to collect tariffs on tomatoes, which it said were covered under an act allowing the collection of tariffs on vegetables. The plaintiff argued they were excluded from such tariffs, because tomatoes were fruits.

The court ruled that even though, botanically, foods like tomatoes, are vegetables, "in the common language of the people," they are vegetables. And who are we to disagree with nine justices?!

Chefs, however, tend to agree with science, including Gordon Ramsay:

But just to complicate matters even further, ever notice that on your phone emojis, the tomato is at the end of the fruits and the beginning of the vegetables? Which is it?!

Now Heinz, one of the country's largest ketchup producers, wants the American public to have a say in how to classify the tomato. You can let them know what you think by voting online or on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #tomatodebate through April 8.

Here’s how the tomato debate is going so far:

While the world sorts this all out, the ketchup maker says it will start selling special edition bottles of Heinz Tomato Fruit Ketchup and Heinz Tomato Vegetable Ketchup. Depending on the poll results, they’ll continue selling bottles of whatever America says a tomato is. But if you don't want to deal with that messy bottle, you can just opt for slices of ketchup!

Heinz Ketchup Bottle
Is ketchup made with fruits or vegetables? Now you can decide.Heinz

Now, it’s time to settle how to say it: to-MAY-to or to-MAH-to?

Love cooking with tomatoes? Check out some of these delicious recipes:

Fresh Tomato Spaghetti
Healthy Tomato Sauce

Healthy Tomato Sauce

Madelyn Fernstrom

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