By Greta Lorge
Oddballs of the produce stand, tomatoes and avocados are fruits, as most people know. Yet more often than not they’re found alongside vegetables in savory culinary preparations. Working on this issue of the magazine got me wondering what it is, exactly, that makes a fruit a fruit. It turns out that the plant world is full of strange cases of counterintuitive classification.
Botanists define a fruit as the portion of a flowering plant that develops from the ovary. It contains the seeds, protecting them and facilitating dispersal. (The definition of a vegetable is a little fuzzier: any edible part of a plant that isn’t a fruit.) Subcategories within the fruit family—citrus, berry, stonefruit or drupe (peaches, apricots), and pome (apples, pears)—are determined by which parts of the flower/ovary give rise to the skin, flesh and seeds.
Strawberries and raspberries aren’t really berries in the botanical sense. They are derived from a single flower with more than one ovary, making them an aggregate fruit. True berries are simple fruits stemming from one flower with one ovary and typically have several seeds. Tomatoes fall into this group, as do pomegranates, kiwis and—believe it or not—bananas. (Their seeds are so tiny it’s easy to forget they’re there.)
One might think that owing to their superficial similarities to stonefruits, avocados might be classified as drupes. But no, they’re actually considered a berry, too—with one, giant seed.
So, bananas are berries and raspberries aren’t. Who knew?