OK, first off, if it's made of plastic, it's not a fruit. What you have there is a plastic imitation of a fruit, not a fruit at all. No fruits are made of plastic!

OK, assuming it's not plastic, how can you tell when something is a fruit? Well, first of all, if it's one of the obvious ones (you know, like an apple, or a banana), well, there you go. Done.

But let's assume the thing you're looking at is not obviously a fruit. It would be nice to say that if it looks like other fruits, it is probably a fruit. But there are too many kinds of fruit to really say that anything "looks like" other fruit. I mean, think about the watermelon, vs. the pomegranate, vs. the grape. We're talking about a big range of looks here, people.

So the point is, fruits are often colorful. I mean, who ever heard of a gray fruit? Oh, I forgot. Fruits are, of course, food. So if, say, you were to bite into the item, and it was clearly not meant to be eaten (say, a beer bottle, or an eraser), then it's not a fruit.

In fact, fruit isn't just food, but it's usually sweet. (Not always, though. A sour apple is obviously not sweet.) So, okay, we've got colorful, sweet food. Oh yeah, it has to be grown. Like, straight off the plant. So Jello isn't a fruit, even though it's colorful and sweet (of course, some might argue it isn't food :-). In fact, it can't just come anywhere off the plant, it has to be hanging off the branches, or something. My point is, it can't come from under the ground. Otherwise, you'd have to call a carrot a fruit.

(I have to digress for a sec. You know, some people say that carrots are sweet. They talk about carrot juice as being this really sweet drink. I just don't get that. I mean, I like carrots and all, but I just wouldn't call them "sweet". Weird.)

So anyway, the problem with this business about the fruit growing off a branch is that you can't look at one and tell (unless it's hanging off the branch right then and there, because you're in an orchard or something. But what are the odds of that?)

A few other possibilities: fruits are squishy. Well, maybe. An apple may or may not be squishy (I usually throw them out if they are the slightest bit squishy, but that's probably wasteful). So no go there. How about: fruits turn brown when they get old. Well, that's certainly true, but you don't want to wait until the fruit is old before you identify it (and besides, vegetables get brown too). Maybe: Fruits have fruit flies swarming around them. All I can say to that is: yecch!. How about: Fruits have fruit bats swarming around them. Well now you're just being silly.

What it really comes down to is: you just can't tell by itself. So here's the key: you gotta use context. For instance, if it's in the fruit section of the store, it's a fruit. If it's being served at dessert, it's more likely a fruit than a vegetable. If it's packed in a lunch with a sandwich and dessert, it's a fruit (at least, it would be in my family).

OK, there you go! Have no fear, you can now identify a fruit!

Another way to recognise a fruit is by the Barbara Streisand record collection and the copy of Beaches on the shelf, with extensive tape abrasion due to frequent rewatching.

The rule of thumb that I learned (if I remember correctly) is:

If it contains seeds, it's a fruit.

According to this rule, tomatoes, which many people believe are vegetables, are in fact fruits. (However, tomahtoes are snobbish vegetables ;)

Great - now I just confused myself. Does this mean that coconuts are vegetables?? I don't remember seeing any seeds in them.

Wow Cig Highwind - I had no idea! It's a good thing our Supreme Court is spending its time on critical issues!


UPDATE: StrawberryFrog says "a coconut *is* a realy big seed, monocot style." This makes sense because if you plant one you get one palm tree.

Ahh, but tomatoes are not fruits in the United States. The US supreme court has ruled that tomatoes are a vegetable. Hopefully, other countries don't let the courts get involved in botany...

No, I'm not making this up, I can't remember the names, but I think the case involved a dispute over school lunches

People (especially kids) like getting into shouting matches about whether a tomato, say, is a fruit or a vegetable. Of course, the problem is that people are using different definitions. From a scientific standpoint, a fruit is the seed-bearing pod of a plant, and a vegetable is essentially anything plant-related. So from that standpoint, a tomato is certainly a fruit, and is vegetable as well (as are all fruits). From a culinary standpoint, though, we have this distinction among some edible plants, into fruits and vegetables (there are plant-derived foods not considered either, of course, such as cereals). And of course, these are culturally determined (I've heard in some cutures rice, for example, is considered a vegetable and in some a cereal). Not all fruits are biologically fruits, and some vegetables are. So cucumbers and tomatoes are vegetables, even though biologically they're fruits, while strawberries (technically bits of stems, not fruits) are fruits, and I'd be half-inclined to consider rhubarb a fruit too, even though it's just a stem.

An interesting rule of thumb I've heard which seems to work pretty well at least in my culture (figure standard Western, European, etc.):

Fruits are those edible plant-bits which are predominantly sweet or sour. The others are vegetables.

Tomatoes and cucumbers aren't sweet enough to be fruits. Nor are peppers, even carrots. But strawberries are, and citrus fruits are sour (as is rhubarb, hence the classification above). There are some grey areas: how sweet do you have to be? Yams (sweet potatoes) are vegetables to most people; maybe they're not sweet enough. It was actually this question which led me to think to node this today: I was eating butternut squash soup... butternut squash is also pretty sweet. Is it a fruit? Um, maybe.

Well, something to consider. I don't know if that guideline will really hold up, but at least realize that this whole "tomatoes are fruits!" "No, they're vegetables!" argument is ridiculous as it's usually made.

According to my 7th grade health teacher, whom I engaged in a hearty argument over this very subject with, the tomato is by science a fruit, and by law a vegetable. That's already been said. Now, I suppose y'all wonder why.

Well, long ago, there were rather high tariffs on vegetables imported, however, not fruits. At the time, the US was using the scientific method of defining tomatoes, and thusly, tomatoes were taxed just as the apples and peaches and everything else. However, as is the case with many proud industries, there was a law passed, specifically, one defining the tomato as a vegetable.

 

Yes, I did just compare tomatoes to marijuana. (pipelinks)

The legal case here is Nix v. Hedden, 149 U.S. 304 (1893) (yay citations) and went all the way to the Supreme Court. The story behind it is this: in 1883, the Tarriff Act imposed a 10% duty on all imported vegetables, but none on fruit. Seeing a good chance to increase collections, the New York Customs Collector declared the tomato to be a vegetable, and incensed importers sued.

The case made its way to the Supreme Court, where the historical proclamation was made by Justice Gray that:

“although botanists consider the tomato a fruit, tomatoes are eaten as a principal part of a meal, like squash or peas, (and all grow on vines), so it is the court’s decision that the tomato is a vegetable.”

This decision legally defined a tomato as a vegetable in the United States and imposed the same tarriffs as for vegetables on them, casting aside hundreds of years of scientific knowledge like so many votes for Al Gore.

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