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Are tomatoes fruit or veg?

What’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom? Are tomatoes fruit or veg?

These are two of life’s most vexing questions – and Google’s biggest searches. Although equally puzzling, they seem to have little more in common than the intensity with which they’re debated. Their complexities have been picked apart for centuries, at dinner parties across the globe, in the common rooms of Oxford’s most esteemed academic colleges, and the dingy bar of The Red Lion pub.

As any seven-year-old will surely tell you, of course, tomatoes are a fruit. They’ve got a point, scientifically speaking. Fruits develop from the flower of a plant, say botanists and nutritionists. They contain seeds, rather than roots, leaves or stems. Sound familiar, tomato lovers? That’s one point for our slightly smug child.

Unfortunately, however, the law’s not on their side. In 1893, the US Supreme Court was forced to wade in on the matter. At the time, tariffs were charged on fruits imported to America but not on vegetables. A case was brought by the Nix family against Edward Hedden, Port of New York tax collector, to claw back the money they’d spent bringing tomatoes into the States.

The case hinged on culinary lexicon. In everyday conversation and cookery, tomatoes were considered vegetables. As the court stated, tomatoes were “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”. They decided that common language trumped scientific classification and tomatoes were veg. It was official. The ruling still stands, influencing trade tariffs to this day.

But what if you’re not up for using antiquated legal precedent to get one over on small children? Perhaps it’s time to return to life’s great questions: Knowledge verses wisdom, fruit versus veg.

As the late humorist Miles Kington pointed out, they’re not so unrelated. One is – in fact – the key to explaining the other. Knowledge is being aware that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

Just don’t get us started on cucumber in your Pimms, alright?

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