Fruit or Vegetable? 12 Foods That Blur the Lines

Last updated: January 30, 2024

This guide shares 12 fruits that many people think are vegetables, exploring the fascinating world where the lines between fruits and veggies blur.

If you’ve ever confused a tomato for a vegetable, you’re not alone. The world of fruits and vegetables is filled with surprises, and in this article, I will be shedding light on 12 fruits that often masquerade as everyday vegetables.

From the deceptive cucumber to the sneaky bell pepper, join me on a journey to uncover the truth behind these culinary chameleons.

Fruits vs Vegetables

Before we dive into my favorite 12 fruits that many people mistake for vegetables, let’s first discuss what makes a fruit a fruit and a vegetable a vegetable.

The distinction between fruits and vegetables is based on botanical and culinary definitions.

Botanical Definitions

The botanical definition of a fruit:

  • A fruit is the mature ovary of a flowering plant, usually containing seeds.
  • It develops from the fertilized ovary of a flower.
  • Fruits are the means by which flowering plants disseminate seeds.
  • Examples: Apples, tomatoes, cucumbers, and bananas.

The botanical definition of a vegetable:

  • Botanically, a vegetable is any other part of a plant that is not a fruit.
  • This includes roots, stems, leaves, and flowers.
  • Vegetables do not form from the flower of the plant but are still vital parts of the plant’s growth and reproduction.
  • Examples: Spinach, cabbage, kale, and carrots.

Culinary Definitions

The culinary definition of a fruit:

  • In the culinary world, fruits are typically sweet or tart and used in desserts, snacks, or juices.
  • This usage is based more on taste, texture, and cultural tradition than botanical classification.

The culinary definition of a vegetable:

  • In cooking, vegetables are savory or less sweet plant parts. They are used in main dishes, sides, soups, and salads.
  • This category often includes plant parts that are technically fruits but are used in savory dishes (like tomatoes and bell peppers).

In short, the confusion between fruits and vegetables often arises because many plants that are botanically fruits, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, have a non-sweet taste and are used in savory culinary contexts.

As a result, they are commonly categorized as vegetables in cooking.

12 Fruits People Think Are Vegetables

Now that we have all the boring stuff out of the way, here are 12 fruits you may have thought were vegetables!

1. Avocado

Avocado
Avocado

The avocado is well-known for its tasty, creamy texture, best described as buttery. And that unique buttery texture is the reason why I’ve been an avid avocado consumer since forever!

Avocados are fruits that grow on trees and contain a large single seed. They can be eaten raw, sliced in salads, spread on toast, or mashed into guacamole.

Personally, I love adding avocado to smoothies, as it helps with creating that perfect smoothie texture.

2. Bell Pepper

Bell peppers
Bell peppers

Available in various colors like red, green, yellow, and orange, bell peppers are actually fruits as they are produced from a flowering plant and contain seeds.

They have a somewhat glossy exterior and a hollow interior with seeds. I love eating bell peppers raw in salads, stir-fried, roasted, or stuffed. And because bell peppers are often used in salads, stir-fries, and savory dishes, they tend to align more with culinary vegetables than fruits.

I should note that all peppers, not just bell peppers, are considered fruits. That also includes the jalapeño and habanero, two incredibly spicy peppers!

3. Cucumber

Cucumber
Cucumber

The cucumber is one of the most common fruits that many people think is a vegetable. Cucumbers are fruits because they develop from the flowers of the cucumber plant and hold seeds.

Cucumbers are known for their cool and crisp texture. They have a mild, refreshing taste with a slightly bitter edge.

The skin is usually green and can be eaten along with the inside. They are commonly sliced for salads or sandwiches or eaten whole as a snack, which is exactly what I often do!

4. Eggplant

Eggplant
Eggplant

Also known as aubergine, eggplants are fruits, as they grow from a flowering plant and contain seeds.

They have a spongy texture and a mildly bitter taste, which becomes tender and rich when cooked. They are typically purple but can vary in color. They are used in a variety of savory dishes, like ratatouille, curry, baba ganoush, and eggplant parmesan.

While eggplant may officially be a fruit, in all honesty, I still tend to call it a vegetable. And I appreciate the eggplant so much that I have it included on my list of favorite purple vegetables.

5. Green Beans

Green beans
Green beans

Green beans (also known as string beans) are considered fruits from a botanical perspective.

Like peas (see below), string beans are the seed-bearing structures that develop from the ovary of a flower. They encase the seeds within a pod, a characteristic of certain types of fruits known as legumes.

Despite being botanically classified as fruits, string beans are commonly referred to as vegetables in culinary contexts because of their savory taste and how they are used in cooking.

6. Okra

Okra
Okra

Okra is commonly used in savory stews, soups, and grilled or fried dishes, which aligns more with the culinary role of vegetables.

Surprisingly, okra is technically a fruit as it develops from the flower’s ovary after fertilization and also contains seeds. Okra has a unique texture, often described as slimy, with a mild, grassy flavor. They are long, green pods with a fuzzy exterior.

Like with eggplant, I instinctively call okra a vegetable. And while I don’t eat as much, I do have it included on my list of favorite green vegetables, and Chinese okra as one of my favorite Chinese vegetables.

7. Olive

Black olives
Black olives

That’s right, the olive is indeed a fruit. It contains a seed and comes from the flower of the olive tree, which classifies it as a fruit, even though there is zero sweetness in your average olive.

As we all know, olives are popular in the Mediterranean, specifically in countries such as Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Spain. They typically have a salty, tangy, sometimes bitter taste, which isn’t for everyone.

Read my guide to various types of olives with a list of the most popular ones from around the world. My favorite olive? I present to you, the Kalamata olive!

8. Peas

Peas
Peas

This may come as a big surprise, but peas are fruits. Or, to be more specific, the pods that enclose the peas are the fruits in botanical terms. In other words, the peas are the seeds of the fruit.

However, in culinary contexts, peas are typically classified as vegetables due to their savory flavor and use in savory dishes, rather than sweet dishes typically associated with fruits.

9. Pumpkin

Pumpkin
Pumpkin

I love pumpkins because of their sweet, slightly earthy flavor. A pumpkin has a thick orange skin and contains seeds and stringy pulp.

Often associated with vegetables due to its culinary uses, the pumpkin is indeed considered a fruit.

Pumpkins are often used in soups, pies, and roasted dishes. The seeds can also be roasted and eaten as a snack. Check out my spicy garnished pumpkin soup recipe if you’re into soups as much as I am.

10. Squash

Butternut squash
Butternut squash

This category includes vegetables like butternut squash and acorn squash, which are technically fruits since they come from the flowering part of plants and contain seeds.

They come in various shapes and sizes, typically with a tough outer skin and soft interior. I love squash because it’s so versatile; it can be roasted, mashed, made into soup, or used in baking.

11. Tomato

Cherry tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes

Often used in savory dishes, tomatoes are botanically classified as fruits because they develop from the flower of the tomato plant and contain seeds.

Tomatoes are juicy with a slightly tangy and sweet taste. They have smooth, shiny skin and are usually red when ripe but can also be green, yellow, or orange. They are eaten raw in salads, sandwiches, or as a garnish, and cooked in sauces, stews, and soups.

Because tomatoes are used primarily in savory dishes, like salads, sauces, and stews, they are typically associated with vegetables.

But the tomato is a special case. In 1893, the Supreme Court officially declared the tomato a vegetable, but only for legal taxation reasons.

12. Zucchini

Zuchini
Zuchini

Also called courgette in some regions, zucchinis are fruits because they come from the flowering part of the plant and enclose seeds.

They have a mild flavor, slightly sweet and slightly bitter. They are usually dark green, with a straight, cylindrical shape.

They can be eaten raw, sliced, or shredded in salads, or cooked in stir-fries, breads, and noodles. While I am not much of a zucchini enthusiast, I do often add slices to my stir-fry meals.

 
 

12 Fruits people think are vegetables

 
Donna Harrison

My name is Donna Harrison, and I created this blog because I am passionate about discovering new foods and learning everything about them. I am also a bit of a smoothie fanatic, and I try to document all my favorite smoothies and other recipes here on Healthy Food Tribe, in addition to recommendations and reviews of my favorite kitchen tools.

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