Like so many things in life, it all started over money. Back in the 1880s, the United States imposed a 10% tax on imported vegetables. When the tariff slammed down upon a load of tomatoes from the Caribbean, the out-of-country merchant protested that because tomatoes are a fruit, his produce was exempt. Technically, he was correct. Tomatoes, produced from an ovary are a fruit, unlike vegetables, which consist of edible leaves, stalks, and roots.
His protest went all the way to the Supreme Court, though it took 10 years to get there. In 1893, Judge Horace Gray wrote:
"Botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans and peas. But in the common language of the people, whether sellers or consumers of provisions, all these are vegetables, which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with or after the soup, fish or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert."
Would Judge Gray be surprised to find tomatoes ending up in desserts now a day? Even so, that statement back in the 19th century set up the perpetuated trivia question that always comes up when tomatoes are in season. Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? I guess it depends on whom you favor, botanists or Uncle Sam.
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