by H Mac Wooten
Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit …. not a vegetable.
Wisdom is knowing that it doesn’t belong in a fruit salad.
Ok, it’s a slow Monday!
The word “tomato” may refer to the plant (Solanum lycopersicum) or the edible, typically red, fruit that it bears. Originating in South America, the tomato was spread around the world following the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Spanish explorer Cortes may have been the first to transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtítlan, now Mexico City, in 1521, although Christopher Columbus, a Genoese working for the Spanish monarchy, may have taken them back as early as 1493. Seems he took credit for a lot of things, didn’t he????? Genetic evidence shows the progenitors of tomatoes were herbaceous green plants with small green fruit and a center of diversity in the highlands of Peru. The big question to ask is, DOES IT HAVE SEEDS? If the answer is yes, then technically, (botanically) you have a FRUIT!
How stupid is this debate? I’m glad you asked! This argument has had legal implications in the United States. In March 1883, Congress passed a new tariff act that put a 10% import duty on any whole vegetables brought into the country. The new tariff didn’t really cause any issue until the produce-importing Nix family tried to bring a load of tomatoes from the West Indies into New York. The collector of the port of New York, Edward L. Hedden, charged the Nixes the 10% duty despite their angry protests that tomatoes were fruits, not vegetables. Hedden refused to classify the offending tomatoes as fruit, so the Nixes sued him to recover their tariff duties.
In 1887, U.S. tariff laws that imposed a duty on vegetables, but not on fruits, caused the tomato’s status to become a matter of legal importance. The U.S. Supreme Court settled the controversy on May 10, 1893, by declaring that the tomato is a vegetable, based on the popular definition that classifies vegetables by use, that they are generally served with dinner and not dessert (Nix v. Hedden (149 U.S. 304)). It was said that the Justices came a-round to a firm conclusion that was ripe for their debate! The holding of the case applies only to the interpretation of the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883, and the court did not purport to reclassify the tomato for botanical or other purposes.
And it drags on Today! In 2005, Nix v. Hedden came back into the news in New Jersey. The Garden State is nationally known for its delicious tomatoes, and lobbyists have used the Supreme Court’s vegetable ruling in their efforts to get the tomato named the state vegetable. Arkansas had earlier decided to play both sides of the debate in 1987 when it passed a single bill declaring the South Arkansas Pink Vine Ripe Tomato both the official state fruit and the official state vegetable. Tennessee and Ohio, on the other hand, have pleased botanists by making the tomato their official state fruits.
If you really want to start an argument, bring this up at a bar b que! It’s not just religion and politics, we now have to add tomatoes to the list of things not discussed in genteel company!
So …. who ya’ gonna believe ….. a scientist or Da Judge?
* Referred to as “maters” or “durmaters” if you’re from the South.
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