Is Cucumber a Fruit or a Vegetable?
Cucumbers have been called vegetables forever, but are they actually fruits?
Fruits and vegetables mean different things to different people, but most of us classify produce based on how it tastes (fruits are sweet, and veggies are savory) and how we eat it. That doesn’t stop us from wondering how certain foods are technically classified. Is cucumber a fruit? And for that matter, is tomato a fruit?
Those aren’t the only foods in question. If you’re the sort to enjoy reading food facts trivia, you’ve probably also wondered whether eggplant is a fruit and if avocado is a fruit or vegetable. It’s a salad’s worth of questionable food classifications.
So let’s settle your cucumber query. Read on to find the answer to “is cucumber a fruit?” Then check out this fascinating piece about the person who invented the hamburger.
What’s the difference between a fruit and a vegetable?
Science tells us that fruits are the mature, edible reproductive structures (namely, the ovaries) of flowering plants. They contain seeds, which is how the species spreads. Vegetables, on the other hand, are the leaves, stems, roots, shoots, and other parts of plants we eat.
Taste really has nothing to do with it, although vegetables and fruits are classified not just by botanists but also by chefs, who generally use veggies in savory dishes like soups and sandwiches and fruits in sweet treats like baked goods, jams and jellies, and desserts.
In one case, the definition was even determined by the courts. In 1893, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a tomato should be classified as a vegetable “based on the ways in which it is used and the popular perception to this end.” The courts were interested in this matter because vegetables were taxed at the time, but fruits were not.
Is cucumber a fruit or a vegetable?
Well, it depends. How you classify cucumbers really comes down to whether you’re coming at the question from a botanical or culinary standpoint. So let’s dive in and answer the question at hand: Is cucumber a fruit?
Why is a cucumber a fruit, botanically speaking?
If you’re looking for an answer that puts the plant’s biology over its use in the kitchen, here you have it: Botanically speaking, cucumbers are fruits.
But exactly why is a cucumber a fruit? Simply put, it fits the scientific description of a fruit.
As you’ve learned, a fruit is the byproduct of the fertilization of a flower, and it contains the seeds of the plant. So botanists make the firm claim that cucumbers are fruits because they develop through the fertilization of flowers and contain seeds. Though there are almost a hundred varieties of cucumber—including seeded and seedless—all are considered fruits. That might be as mind-boggling as discovering peanuts aren’t actually nuts, but it’s true.
Another fact that’ll blow your mind: Cucumbers are actually classified as berries within the fruit family because they grow from a single flower with only one ovum, as opposed to raspberries (not true berries!), which form from a single flower with multiple ovaries. But cucumbers are not melons, though they can be paired with melons in certain dishes.
Why is cucumber a vegetable from a culinary standpoint?
Since cucumbers taste savory and are used in savory preparations such as pickles and salads (but not of the fruit variety), they are considered a vegetable by culinarians the world over and have been for centuries. Cucumbers are often eaten with tea in sandwiches or with lunch or dinner—never as a dessert. They’re also always found in the vegetable aisle of the supermarket, alongside tomatoes, scallions and green onions, lettuce, and other veggies.
So from a cultural and culinary perspective, cucumbers are considered vegetables.
Does it actually matter what we call cucumbers?
Yes and no. It’s important to know the facts about what we’re eating, and cucumbers and tomatoes are fruits, no matter what you grew up believing. Is cucumber a fruit? It is from a botanist’s point of view. Is cucumber a vegetable? Yes, from a culinary and cultural point of view.
With facts being what they are, both fascinating and important, it is good practice to refer to what you are eating by its proper classification (or at the very least be aware so that you can be an annoying know-it-all from time to time). It’s also a smart move to brush up on other cucumber facts, like the fact that they’re very low in calories and have a high water content. They also contain potassium, magnesium, and vitamins K, C, and A. The bottom line: No matter what you want to call cucumbers, as long as you’re eating them, you’re winning.
Now that your cucumber question has been answered, learn more about the foods you love by finding out who invented pizza and who invented ice cream.
- Justia: “Nix v. Hedden”
- USDA FoodData Central: “Cucumber, raw”