What’s a Vegetable?

rhubarb

 

Even the most hapless of cooks can take comfort in their ability to distinguish vegetables from fruits. Or can they? Maybe they already know about the tomato, the most famous crossover produce item. But we’re not sure if they’d correctly label eggplant (botanically classified as a fruit), rhubarb (a vegetable), or corn (every individual kernel, a fruit!). Even in this kale-cultivar-fluent era, our basic crisper-drawer taxonomy is still pretty out of whack.

 

What makes a vegetable a vegetable? There’s no hard and fast rule, but fruits are easier to define. The giveaway is seeds: botanists say that seeds are ripened ovules (i.e., eggs), which nest in ovaries that ripen into fruit. Cucumbers, bell peppers, avocados—all fruit.

 

Of course, the field guide should never dictate the fate of flavor. (Salty rhubarb? No thanks.) In the kitchen, good taste always rules.

 

 

About the author: Anna Mowry is senior editor at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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