Whether it’s on a sandwich, in a salad, or mixed in salsa, tomatoes are a favorite fruit…or is it a vegetable?
Tomatoes are considered a fruit in a botanical sense but are generally accepted as vegetables in a culinary sense. If you’re a little confused, don’t worry – we’ll explain more below!
What’s the definition of a fruit?
The classifications for plant-based foods are usually pretty clear, but sometimes it can get a little confusing when something meets the criteria for more than one category – such as the tomato.
So what makes something a fruit, anyway? There are several definitions out there, but here’s a description that makes the most sense to us: if it grew from a seed and the seed is still present in the mature structure, it’s likely a fruit.
For example – apples grow from seeds, which are still present within the core of a mature apple. The same is true for other types of fruit like peaches, avocados, and tomatoes! (If you’re looking for more somewhat confusing topics, consider how coconuts can be considered a fruit, nut, AND a seed!)
If you plant the seeds from these types of fruit into the ground, you can grow more of them (under the right circumstances, of course). Most people buy tomato seeds to plant more tomatoes, but you can in fact plant the whole tomato fruit to grow more tomatoes since the seeds are in there!
On the other hand, carrots and lettuce are examples of vegetables that do not contain seeds in them, which disqualifies them as fruit.
How do tomatoes fit the vegetable bill, then?
Okay, so tomatoes are a fruit but they’re also considered a vegetable? Let’s explain how this works out.
While tomatoes aren’t classified as vegetables in a botanical sense, they are considered vegetables in a culinary sense. Tomatoes are typically used in ways more similar to vegetables – for instance, they’re in salads, on top of pizza, and aren’t used in sweet dishes like many fruits can be.
In addition, tomatoes are more similar to vegetables nutrition-wise because they aren’t high in sugar. For example, one medium tomato contains around three grams of natural sugar, while one medium apple has around 19 grams of natural sugar.
Here is a helpful visual comparing tomatoes and apples, which are both considered fruit.
|Calories||Total carbs||Total sugars||Dietary fiber||Vitamin C|
|One medium apple||95||25 g||19 g||4.4 g||14% DV|
|One medium tomato||22||4.8 g||3.2 g||1.5 g||28% DV|
Other types of botanical fruits that are considered vegetables in a culinary sense include:
In case you’re curious, vegetables are usually considered things that contain roots/bulbs, leaves, and stems, but not seeds. For example, carrots (root vegetable), spinach (leafy vegetable), and celery (stalk/stem) are all examples of true vegetables!
What about tomato sauce?
Even though tomatoes are considered a fruit in a botanical sense, tomato sauce and other byproducts can count as servings of vegetables. When schools serve pizza in the cafeteria, one-half cup of tomato paste counts as a serving of vegetables!
Some final thoughts on the fruit vs. vegetable “debate”
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if the food you eat is technically a fruit or vegetable; both have several nutritional benefits that can have a positive impact on your health.
The best piece of advice we have is to get a balance of sweet-tasting and non-sweet-tasting fruits/vegetables in your diet!
Tomatoes are low in sugar and carbohydrates, making them suitable for low-carbohydrate diets such as the ketogenic (keto) diet.
Tomatoes are considered acidic with a pH around 4-4.6 (anything below 7 is considered acidic). However, they are still less acidic than citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, grapefruits, and limes.
Tomato juice is generally considered vegetable juice since it is low in sugar, unlike other types of fruit juice. One cup of tomato juice contains around six grams of sugar while one cup of orange juice contains 21 grams of sugar, for comparison.