What's the Difference Between Fruits and Vegetables? An Expert Weighs In

Yes, avocados are a fruit.

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Fruits and vegetables are often grouped together as a culinary category, but are distinct in many ways. In fact, many of the vegetables you’ve grown up eating are likely fruits. Seriously. They’re both produce, and they both contain various types of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, but categorically, a lot of the vegetables you’ve always known and loved as veggies, are, in fact, fruits. And we’re not just talking about tomatoes. Here’s what you need to know to distinguish fruits and vegetables, so you can be a little more knowledgeable about the plants you’re eating.


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The Difference Between Fruits and Vegetables

The main difference between fruits and vegetables is how fruits come from the flowering part of a plant and contain seeds,” says Hans Sauter, Senior Vice President, R&D and Agricultural Services and Chief Sustainability Officer, Fresh Del Monte. “In contrast, vegetables are the edible parts of a plant and can consist of leaves, stems, and roots.”

Plant foods with seeds, such as cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, strawberries, and mangos, are all fruits. Foods without seeds, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, and carrots, are vegetables. Fruits can also be eaten raw, while many vegetables need to be cooked in order to be properly digested. Zucchini carpaccio, avocado toast, tomato salad, and smashed cucumbers are all raw fruits that humans can easily digest and benefit from. And while plenty of veggies—we’ve all downed a crudités platter or a salad—are also enjoyable and nutritious uncooked, others (beans, potatoes, rhubarb – yep, that’s a vegetable) need some preparation to help with digestion. 

“Despite misconceptions, tomatoes and avocados are both classified as fruits because they carry seeds,” Sauter says. “Overall, tomatoes and avocados lack stereotypical sweetness, compared to many other fruits. Confusion amongst consumers typically exists because, from a culinary perspective, certain fruits are often categorized as vegetables.”

So why do we dub so many greens and more dinner-friendly fruits as vegetables? And why are these apparent fruits sometimes better in a sauce or with a piece of meat, than eaten in juicy bites, like your stereotypical fruit? “In the culinary realm, fruits and vegetables are often separated based on their taste and aroma,” says Sauter. “For instance, people associate fruits with sweetness, and vegetables with savory tastes.”


Legumes, including beans, peas, and lentils, are also vegetables. “Legumes are technically considered a division of vegetables,” Sauter notes. “Vegetables are a broad category that can be further broken down into various [smaller] categories. For instance, vegetables come from different parts of the plant, including leaves, stems, and roots. However, legumes come from one specific family of plants, and only from the seeds or seed pods.” 


And just to confuse you a bit more, several plant-based foods don’t fall into either category. Mushrooms aren’t veggies, or fruits, nor are they even considered plants, technically. “Fungi, like mushrooms, are technically not plants, so they are not classified as fruits or vegetables,” says Sauter. “While they belong to their own separate kingdom, we often treat mushrooms as vegetables in the kitchen, in terms of how we prepare them.”

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