It’s about time to start planting your vegetable gardens or at least getting some of your vegetables, like your tomatoes, started indoors.

What’s that? Did I just hear you say, “technically a tomato is a fruit?” Admit it. You did. Even if you didn’t say it verbally, you thought it in your head.

What if I told you that you might technically be wrong? It depends on whether you’re going for the botanical definition of a tomato or the legal definition. The two are different.

Here’s a little fun fact to bring up at your next foodie dinner and see how many of your friends get heated about the subject. In 1893 the Supreme Court ruled that a tomato is a vegetable. Despite being classified as a fruit botanically, legally tomatoes are veggies.

The decision of Nix v. Hedden came over a dispute about — what else — money. At the time, taxes had to be paid on imported vegetables but not imported fruit. The plaintiffs had been taxed on the tomatoes they imported and wanted their money back from Edward L. Hedden, the Collector of the Port of New York at the time.

During the trial, dictionary definitions were read and two witnesses who sold fruit and vegetables were called to testify. After hearing what must have been nail biting testimony, the court decided that tomatoes should be classified as a vegetable “based on the ways in which it is used, and the popular perception to this end.” Imported tomatoes could be taxed and more than a hundred years later, my great state of New Jersey could declare the tomato our official state vegetable

So go ahead and put tomatoes in your vegetable garden. They belong there, right next to the zucchini and pumpkins, which, by the way, botanically are also fruits. 

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Is a tomato a vegetable or a fruit?
If you want to start a foodie feud, just bring up this fun fact at your next potluck.