Are Potatoes a Fruit or Vegetable? – From Lots of Angles

The average American eats 115 lbs. of potatoes a year. So, are we eating a 115 lbs. of vegetable or fruit? The short answer, a potato is a vegetable but the potato plant produces inedible fruits.

The fruits potato plants produce are shown in the video below. They are inedible but house true potato seeds (TPS).

This is the fruit of a potato plant. It’s inedible and houses true potato seeds (TPS).

Check out this article “Do Potatoes Have Seeds” to learn more about “true potato seeds”.

Potatoes a Fruit or Vegetable – Straight From the Dictionary

Time to crack open a Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and see what’s what.

Under vegetable, “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”.

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

A potato plant is a herbaceous plant, a plant with green pliable stems, and it is grown for an edible part, potatoes, that are usually eaten as part of a meal. According to the dictionary potatoes are vegetables.

US and British Governments Don’t Agree on Vegetable Classification of Potatoes

The USDA sets the Federal guidelines for what a healthy diet should look like. They put vegetables into 5 categories: dark-green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and other vegetables.

It stands to reason that potatoes would fall under the starchy vegetable category and under their Nutrients and Health Benefits page of vegetables they list white potatoes under a vegetable source of potassium.

However, the British Department of Health does not share this view. The following is from a statement by a Department of Health (DoH) representative.

Potatoes are botanically classified as a vegetable, but they are classified nutritionally as a starchy food. This is because when eaten as part of a meal, they are generally used in place of other starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta or rice.  As such, they have a different role to vegetables in the average diet and do not count towards the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

To read more about the British Department of Health’s opinions here is an article on it that depicts British dieticians not agreeing with the government that potatoes are not classified as vegetables.

Are Potatoes Classified Botanically as a Fruit or Vegetable?

The botanical name for the potato plant is Solanum tuberosum. Solanum is the genus and translates to “the nightshade plant”. The nightshade family also includes the tomato, eggplant, and bell pepper.

Botanically speaking, a fruit is the seed bearing structure of a plant that formed from the mature ovary of a plant after flowering. A vegetable is all other parts of the plant that are not involved in reproduction including the roots, stems, and leaves.

Botanically potatoes are a part of the plant that are not involved in reproduction. Even though potatoes are used for asexual reproduction of the potatoes they are not involved in the plants natural reproduction process.

Similarly taking a cutting from a tomato plant and putting it in the dirt where it roots does not make the branch of a tomato plant a fruit.

Potatoes are not technically the root of a potato plant but part of the stem that store water and food for the plant. Potatoes are stem tubers and sweet potatoes are root tubers.

Does Harvard Think Potatoes Are Vegetables?

Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate does not count potatoes as vegetables. The reason Harvard gives is because potatoes have a high glycemic index. That means they are a simple carb that digest rapidly and cause blood sugar and insulin levels to spike and then dip.

Horticulture Definition of Vegetable and Fruit

Horticulture is the agriculture of plants for human use, either as food or through non-food uses. Horticulture is similar to agriculture but differs in the diversity of crops grown and the smaller scale of production of those crops.

In horticulture, the definition of a vegetable is a herbaceous annual plant and the definition of a fruit is that it comes from a woody perennial.

An annual is a plant that dies off every year and needs to be replanted and a perennial is a plant that lives for multiple seasons. An example of a woody perennial is any fruit tree like a peach or apple tree.

Because a potato plant is grown as an annual and is definitely herbaceous I think horticulturally it would be defined as a vegetable.

The Supreme Court Weighs in on Fruits & Vegetables

In 1893 a trial went to the Supreme Court, Nix v. Hedden. In the case the plaintiff was trying to get out of paying a 10% import tax on tomatoes by saying that tomatoes were fruit and not vegetables. At the time there was a 10% tax on imported vegetables and no tax on imported fruits.

Testimony was given by businessmen that dealt in vegetables and fruits. The dealers were asked the common terms they used when talking about the vegetables and fruits they bought and sold.

The court ruled that botanically tomatoes were a fruit, but that tomatoes are a vegetable. They stated the two main reasons for this ruling is that tomatoes are commonly referred to as vegetables and that consumption in main dishes as opposed to desserts made it a vegetable.

The court also referenced a similar case from 1889 in which someone tried to get out of paying a tax on imported beans by calling them seeds.

To learn about what states and countries grow the most potatoes as well as where potato plants originate from “Where Do Potatoes Grow?“.

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