8 Fruits You Think Are Vegetables

They're masquerading behind a lack of sweetness.

Growing tomatoes is fine, but eating them raw? The Grumpy Gardener is not a fan. (Photo: gresei/Shutterstock)

Botanists will tell you a tomato is a fruit, and many people already know that. But what many people don't know is that in the United States, tomatoes are legally vegetables. In 1893, the Supreme Court 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." If you're wondering why the Supreme Court was ruling on something like this, it had to do with taxes. Vegetables at the time were taxed, but fruits were not.

Generally speaking, fruits are the seed-bearing part of a plant that requires pollination to grow and whose dissemination will spread the species further afield. Vegetables tend to be the edible stems, leaves, roots, bulbs and other parts of a plant. There is disagreement about classification in some cases, as well as confusion caused by the perceived sweetness and savoriness of various fruits and vegetables, which is what we explore in this post.

What follows is a list of fruits that we consider to be vegetables, based on popular perception and the ways they're used. These may surprise you.

Olives

closeup-olvies-on-branch
Olives are a fruit because they come from the flower of the olive tree. (Photo: Tomo Jesenicnik/Shutterstock)

If you had asked me, I might have said olives were a vegetable, not a fruit. But olives are a fruit because they come from the flower of the olive tree. A fruit comes from the mature ovary of a plant and the ovary is found in the flower. That's why all of these vegetables are technically fruit—they grow from a flower.

Eggplant

eggplants on wooden table
Eggplants are technically berries — really, really big ones. (Photo: Valentsova/Shutterstock)

We certainly treat eggplants like vegetables. I've never seen them eaten raw. They are savory and sometimes a little bitter, but never sweet. But not only are eggplants botanically fruits, they are considered berries—very, very large berries. I don't see myself throwing one into a smoothie anytime soon, though.

Pumpkins and Squash

pumpkins in a home garden
Pumpkins, squash and zucchini start out from the flowers of their vines. (Photo: MNStudio/Shutterstock)

Pumpkins and other types of squash, including zucchini (aka summer squash), start out from a flower on a vine that requires pollination to grow, so they're technically fruits. If you're feeling confused, you can also think of fruits as any "fleshy or dry ripened ovary of a flowering plant" that encloses seeds.

Cucumbers

Cucumber
Cucumbers, like their squash cousins, are technically a fruit. (Photo: LedyX/Shutterstock)

Cucumbers are closely related to pumpkins and squash, and like their cousins, are technically fruit. When you see one hanging from the vine with the flower still attached at the end, it makes some sense, doesn't it?

Green Beans

Photo: Mike Mozart [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr

Green beans certainly seem like vegetables, don't they? When a picky child doesn't want to eat green beans, what does Mom or Dad say? "Eat your vegetables." Maybe if green beans were called a fruit, which is botanically accurate, the kid would be more inclined to eat them. The fruit designation makes sense when you think about it, though; the pods enclose small beans or seeds that sometimes taste sweet and would propagate the species if replanted.

Okra

okra
Okra — no matter which family you think it belongs to — has been gaining popularity for years. (Photo: Brent Hofaker/Shutterstock)

Okra's popularity has been growing in the past few years, and while it hasn't yet earned the status of an "it" vegetable like kale or cauliflower, it may still earn that moniker. If it does, you'll know it's really not an "it" vegetable; it's an "it" fruit. The entire seed-packed pod is edible and can grow up to a length of seven inches.

Peppers

Habanero peppers
Habanero peppers come in lovely shades. (Photo: Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock)

It really seems wrong that peppers are on this list, especially when you realize that something like a habanero—a pepper that's 70 times hotter than a jalapeño—is technically a fruit. But whether the pepper is on the sweet side like a bell pepper or on the super spicy side like a habanero, they are all derived from a flower and therefore are fruits.

Why Do We Call Some Fruits Vegetables?

ratatouille
Technically, this ratatouille is a savory, baked dish full of fruit. (Photo: Oksana Mizina/Shutterstock)

Why did all these fruits come to be known as vegetables? The best guess is that since they're not sweet, due to the natural sugars in them being low, people who cooked them put them in the vegetable category. There they joined the ranks of true vegetables that come from the leaves, stalks, roots, tubers and bulbs of a plant, or vegetables that are the flower of the plant, like broccoli.

But think about it. A dish such as ratatouille, made from tomato, eggplant, and squash, is, botanically speaking, just a baked fruit salad.