TOMATO…vegetable or fruit?

A botanist would describe a fruit as “any fleshy material covering one or more seeds”. Per definition, it is the organ of an angiosperm deriving from the ovary containing ovules transformed into seeds, or, better, an edible product from some tree like or herbaceous plants. Usually, a fruit is containing and protecting seeds favoring its dispersal, too. The sweet ones, such as apples or pears, are called “fruit” whereas the non sweet –

cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins and so on – are usually known as “vegetable”. Until the end of the XIX century in the United States tomatoes had been classified as fruit, but this changed when the congress, through a disposal of 1883 in order to protect the local agriculture and farmers, decided to levy a ten percent tax on all imported vegetables by including tomatoes. A few years later, a tomato importer, after having studied the ordinance very carefully, decided to challenge the court by sustaining that tomatoes, from the botanical point of view, were fruits, and not vegetables, so they ought to be tax free. John Nix, the name of the  astute gentleman, went right to the supreme court (Nix vs. Hedden, 149 U.S.304) which, in 1893, passed an unusual judgment. From  the botanical point of view, tomatoes had to be classified as fruits from a creeping plant such as cucumber or peas. However, in the common language and use the plant was treated like a vegetable, grown in vegetable gardens and served, raw or cooked, in soups and as accompaniment to savory dishes, for instance, meat and fish and not as dessert at the end of the meal. The court, consequently, ignored the botanical reality, viz. that the tomato was nothing but a huge berry, taking into account the popular use as vegetable. The ten percent tax on the tomatoes had to be paid. The verdict  was like manna from heaven for the then almost totally private farmers in America. Thanks to the higher prices of the imported tomatoes, they were in a position to adjust the prices for their tomatoes, too.

Anneliese Rabl …. finding a life in Tuscany

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