Tomatoes are truly a cause for confusion in terms of their classification. This hotly contested fruit that’s treated as a vegetable brings a fresh pop of color and flavor to your plate. With a sweet, tart, and slightly acidic taste, are tomatoes part of the citrus family?
Tomatoes aren’t citrus. They belong to the nightshade (Solanaceae) family, which includes peppers, potatoes, and eggplants. The edible fruit part of the tomato plant is botanically classified as a berry due to its size, fleshy pulp, and multiple seeds that grow from a single flower with one ovary.
Tomatoes are technically fruits. But exactly what kind of fruit are they? Let’s discover what this rather perplexing fruit actually is.
- Characteristics Of Citrus Plants
- Characteristics Of The Nightshade Family
- The Difference Between Typical Citrus Plants And Tomatoes
Why Tomatoes Aren’t Citrus?
Their sweet and sour flavor, juicy flesh, and notable citric acid content have led many to assume that tomatoes belong to the citrus family.
However, when you examine what distinguishes one plant type from another, it becomes evident that tomato plants aren’t citrus but are instead members of the nightshade family.
Characteristics Of Citrus Plants
Plants that are botanically classified as citrus share the following characteristics:
- A member of the Rutaceae family of plants.
- Thick, inedible peels with a white inner pith that is typically bitter.
- Grown on perennial trees.
- Highly fragrant skin.
- Segmented flesh with a juicy pulp.
- An essential oil can be extracted from the rind.
Popular citrus fruits include lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges, pomelos, and mandarins.
Characteristics Of The Nightshade Family
Common attributes of nightshade plants include:
- Belong to the Solanaceae family of plants.
- Parts of the plant contain toxic alkaloid compounds.
- The plant produces juicy, fleshy fruit (tomatoes) or seeded capsules (peppers).
- Foliage (leaves) with a hairy coating, usually odorous.
- The stems have alternate leaves that grow in a staggered pattern.
Edible nightshades include tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, and peppers.
The Difference Between Typical Citrus Plants And Tomatoes
Unlike citrus fruits, the entire tomato is edible.
There’s no fragrance in the skin, and it can’t produce essential oils like citrus fruit rinds.
While citrus fruit grows on perennial trees, tomatoes grow on short vines.
Citrus plants belong to the Rutaceae family and tomato plants to the Solanaceae family.
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What Type Of Fruit Is A Tomato?
You might be amazed to learn that a tomato is botanically classified as a berry!
Usually, when you think of a berry, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries immediately come to mind.
These are known as culinary berries.
Botanical berries are regarded as true berries.
Besides tomatoes, the list of true berries also includes pumpkins, bananas, watermelons, avocados, kiwis, grapes, eggplants, and cucumbers.
This is because their structure meets the biological definition of a true berry.
Characteristics Of A True Berry
Tomatoes qualify as members of the berry family because they possess the following qualities:
- Botanically classified as a “simple fruit,” developed from a single flower with only one ovary.
- The fruit has three layers: an outer skin (exocarp), a fleshy middle (mesocarp), and an inner layer that contains the seeds (endocarp).
- The fruit contains two or more seeds embedded inside the flesh.
- The fruit is typically sweet, juicy, and brightly colored.
Surprising Facts About Berries
- Tomatoes are true berries, but raspberries aren’t?
Botanically speaking, raspberries, blackberries, mulberries, and strawberries are not true berries.
They are known as “aggregate fruits,” which develop from flowers with multiple ovaries.
Unlike true berries, these fruits have seeds on the outside.
In the culinary berry family, only blueberries, cranberries, and gooseberries are true berries.
- The closest relation tomatoes would have to citrus: They are both botanically classified as a type of berry.
Members of the citrus family are also recognized as berries, as they develop from a single ovary and contain multiple seeds inside the flesh.
However, they aren’t considered a true berry but a subtype of berry called a hesperidium because their flesh is divided into segments surrounded by a rind.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Cherry Tomatoes Citrus?
Cherry tomatoes aren’t citrus. Like all tomato varieties, they’re part of the nightshade family of plants.
The small, sweet, and widely-adored fruit is botanically classified as a berry due to its juicy flesh and multiple inner seeds.
They are the result of a single flower with one ovary.
Is A Tomato A Fruit Or Vegetable?
The tomato has always been subject to heated debate and confusion about where you should place it, and this is understandable.
Let’s discover the truth about the tomato controversy!
Botanically and scientifically speaking, tomatoes are fruits.
This is because they develop from the flower of the plant, and they contain seeds.
Eggplants, pumpkins, peppers, and cucumbers are all technically fruits.
Vegetables are actual parts of the plant, such as leaves, stems, and roots.
Think of beetroot, carrots, leafy greens, herbs, celery, etc.
In nutritional, culinary, and legal terms, tomatoes are vegetables.
While most fruits grow on trees, the tomato plant grows like other vegetables, on vines and close to the ground (think of pumpkin, zucchini, peas, and beans).
Tomatoes are prepared and consumed as vegetables in cooking.
Unlike most fruits, tomatoes are added to savory dishes rather than sweet ones.
That’s why you will find tomatoes in the vegetable section of grocery stores.
The humble tomato has caused so much controversy that even the Supreme Court had to weigh in on whether it should be subject to vegetable import duties.
Since tomatoes are eaten like vegetables, they unanimously declared them to be vegetables!
It’s evident that a tomato is technically both a fruit and a vegetable.
The late British journalist, Miles Kington, explains it best: “Knowledge consists of knowing that a tomato is a fruit, and wisdom consists of not putting it in a fruit salad!”
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Are Tomatoes Acidic?
The pH of fresh tomatoes is generally between 4.3 to 4.9, making them acidic in nature.
Tomatoes contain three primary acids: citric acid, malic acid, and ascorbic acid (hello, Vitamin C!).
These compounds contribute to the tomatoes’ taste, texture, and acidity levels.
The acidity decreases as the tomato ripens.