Are Cucumbers A Fruit or Vegetable – From Every Angle

Scientifically speaking, a cucumber is a fruit. According to mama, cucumbers are vegetables. Who’s right? Both are correct! However, one category has more check marks in it than the other.

A cucumber is botanically categorized as a fruit because it produces a flower that will turn into a seed bearing “fruit” that the plant will reproduce from.

A cucumber is categorized in culinary use as a vegetable because of it’s low sugar content and use in main or side dishes and not desserts.

Therefore, a cucumber is both a fruit and a vegetable and both mama and the scientist know what they’re talking about.

Throughout this article we’re going to go HAM on breaking cukes down into a fruit or vegetable from all different perspectives. We’ll also go over some facts about cucumbers and some other stuff.

Scientific Classification of Fruits and Vegetables

The cucumber (Cucumis Sativus) is a plant in the Cucurbitacea family that produces cucumiform fruits. Cucumiform means shaped like a cucumber, cylindrical with rounded edges and possibly a curved shape.

Cucurbitacea also called cucurbits, or the gourd family, contains 965 species including squash, pumpkin, zucchini, cucumbers, and watermelon.

Cucumbers are considered a fruit botanically because they come from the ovary of a flowering plant and contain seeds of that plant. Botanically, vegetables are all the other parts of the plant that are not the product of the ovary of a flowering plant.

female cucumber flower
A female cucumber flower with the ovary directly behind it. Once pollinated the ovary will grow into a cucumber and be ready for harvest in 7-10 days.

Is a Cucumber a Berry?

Botanically speaking, a cucumber is a berry and a strawberry is not! The botanical definition of a berry is “a fleshy fruit without a stone pit produced from a single flower containing one ovary.”

So, cucumbers are botanically recognized as berries and so are bananas, avocados, eggplants, tomatoes, watermelon, and pumpkins.

To get more specific, a cucumber is a type of berry known as a pepo and so are watermelons and pumpkins!

Culinary Categorization – Fruits & Vegetables

In culinary terms, a vegetable has a more mild and savory flavor and is served as a main dish or side dish. A fruit has a sweet or tart flavor and is generally served as a dessert, snack, or juice. Texture is also considered with vegetables having a tougher texture and fruits a more delicate texture.

Horticulturally Speaking – Cucumbers a Fruit or Vegetable?

Horticulture is the practice of agriculture of plants for human use, food and non-food uses. In horticulture, the products of herbaceous annual plants are vegetables and the products of woody perennial plants are fruit.

Herbaceous annual plants grow and die back every year and have pliable stems and branches. Woody perennials have more durable stems and branches and come back year after year, like trees.

Therefore, horticulturally a cucumber is a vegetable and any product from a tree like a peach, is a fruit.

What Does The Supreme Court Say?

In 1893 there was a trial, Nix v. Hedden, in which the plaintiff tried to get out of paying an import tariff on tomatoes by alleging that tomatoes were fruit and not vegetables.

Under the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883 imported vegetables had a 10% tax placed on them and fruits came under a free clause. “Vegetables in their natural state, or in salt or brine, not specially enumerated or provided for in this act, ten percentum ad valorem,” and fruits “Fruits, green, ripe, or dried, not specially enumerated or provided for in this act.” 

During the case there was testimony by two merchants that dealt in the vegetable and fruit trades and they stated common terms they used when dealing with customers and other vendors. Then the attorney of both the plaintiff and defendant read definitions from Webster’s Dictionary of various fruits and vegetables.

The defendant’s counsel then read in evidence from Webster’s Dictionary the definitions of the words “pea,” “egg plant,” “cucumber,” “squash,” and “pepper.”

The plaintiff then read in evidence from Webster’s and Worcester’s dictionaries the definitions of “potato,” “turnip,” “parsnip,” “cauliflower,” “cabbage,” “carrot,” and “bean.”

The conclusion the court came to was that tomatoes are a vegetable! The court recognized that botanically tomatoes were a fruit but under its common reference and consumption in main dishes as opposed to desserts made it a vegetable.

They also went on to reference a case from 1889 in which the plaintiff tried to get out of paying a tariff on imported beans by calling them seeds.

Fruit or Vegetable – Turning To The Dictionary

Turning to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary let’s see what we get.

According to Merriam-Webster a vegetable is “a usually herbaceous plant (such as the cabbage, bean, or potato) grown for an edible part that is usually eaten as part of a meal”.

Definition of fruit, “the usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant especially one having a sweet pulp associated with the seed”

According to its definitions of fruit and vegetable many plants would broadly fall under both categories including beans, tomatoes, and okra; however, because it mentions fruit as being especially sweet I’d say Merriam-Webster tips the scale towards the common and culinary classification of these plant products as vegetables, including cucumbers.

Culturally

Culturally speaking, almost all of us consider a cucumber a vegetable. I’ve never heard of a cucumber pie. Fruits do make their way into green leaf salads but their sweetness and tartness makes them stand out mixed in with all the veggies. If you go to the supermarket you’ll most likely see cucumbers near carrots, bell peppers and other vegetables. So I think it’s safe to say as a culture we identify cucumbers as a vegetable.

Conclusion

While a cucumber is classified scientifically as a fruit, it checks in in every other category as a vegetable. Sometimes mama really does know best.

Facts About Cucumbers

Production – Cucumbers are produced in countries around the world with China, India, and Russia as the top 3 producers and the USA as the 4th top producer. During winter months here in the states most cucumbers are imported from Mexico.

US Production – Cucumbers are mainly produced in 5 states: Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Michigan is the #1 producer of pickling cucumbers and Florida the #1 producer of fresh slicing cucumbers.

High Water Content – Cucumbers have the highest water content of any vegetable. They are composed of 96% water!

Harvest On Time! – By harvesting cucumbers off the vine before they reach full maturity it encourages the plant to continue to produce fruit. If a cucumber is left on the vine until it reaches maturity it will signal to the plant that it has done its job by producing a fruit with mature seeds and it can now shut down. A cucumber has reached full maturity when it starts to yellow and grows to a big size, greater than an inch and a half in diameter. At this point the fruit is turning bitter and the seeds have grown large and hard in the middle of the fruit.

Farming Cucumbers – Farmers normally plant from 40,000 to 90,000 plants per acre and this number can go up to 150,000 cucumber plants per acre. Most cucumbers are picked by hand as they mature at different times and continue to produce for anywhere from 2-12 weeks depending on variety. Some larger operations are harvested by machine and then the field is plowed under and possibly a second crop of cucumbers or rotation to another crop grown.

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