Is a strawberry a fruit? Are they vegetables? Is a strawberry a berry? Let’s take a closer look from 6 different angles.
What Would a Botanist Say?
According to the University of Missouri, strawberries are not technically a fruit! Botanists actually consider strawberries to be “false fruits”.
Fruits are the edible reproductive body of a plant. The strawberry “fruit” that we know and love is not the reproductive part of the strawberry plant, which is why botanists do not classify them as a fruit.
Technically, strawberries are “the enlarged receptacle” of the flower. This means that strawberries are actually enlarged flower stems!
Instead of developing into the “fruit”, the reproductive organ of the strawberry (the plants ovaries) develop into the seeds on the outside of the strawberry flesh. These are called achenes.
Even though strawberries do not meet the technical/botanical definition of fruit, this does not make them vegetables.
You might also be interested in “Do Strawberries Have Seeds?“.
Horticultural Definition of Strawberries
In horticulture, strawberries are considered to be a fruit. They are perennial fruit crops that produce aromatic and flavorful berries.
More specifically, Washington State University states that strawberries are “aggregate accessory fruits” and the “true fruits” of the strawberry are actually the tiny “seeds” that speckle the red flesh.
Even though the flesh of the strawberry isn’t considered a “true fruit”, that doesn’t matter in horticulture. In horticulture, they are more concerned with what the plant ultimately produces. For strawberry plants, the end result is, you guessed it – a berry!
What Do We Consider Strawberries Culturally?
Culturally, strawberries are considered fruits. But depending at what point in history you are looking at, this wasn’t always true!
The University of Minnesota states that strawberries were mentioned by the Roman poets Virgil and Ovid in the first century A.D.
At this time, they weren’t referencing strawberries even as a food! Instead, they referenced it as an ornamental plant.
Wild strawberries have been eaten by people since ancient times, but not in large amounts. At this point, strawberries were small, tough, and lacked flavor – hardly the fruit we know today!
Thankfully, by the 1300’s strawberries were beginning to be cultivated to improve their size and taste. The French began to transplant the small and tough wild strawberries from the forest into the garden.
Cultivation of strawberry plants continued until the modern strawberry we know and love today was born in the 1700s, when a North American strawberry species was crossed with a South American strawberry species in Europe by a French Spy!
Check out the linked article to the right for more on the history of strawberry plants.
Are Strawberries a Fruit in Culinary Use?
Culinarily, strawberries are used as fruits due to their sweet flavor. They can be eaten fresh, dried, or frozen.
In culinary terms, a fruit has a sweet or tart flavor and is typically served as a snack or dessert while a vegetable has a mild or savory taste and is served as part of the main course.
Because strawberries have a really popular and versatile flavor, they can be found in all sorts of foods. You will find them topping salads, breakfast foods like pancakes and waffles, in drinks, and many more foods! You can even find strawberries in alcoholic drinks!
Strawberry daiquiris are delicious summer drinks when made with fresh strawberries, sugar, lime juice, and rum. It is also common to find strawberries in dairy products. You can find strawberry ice cream, strawberry milk, and strawberry yogurt.
Dried strawberries are found in prepared foods, like cereal bars or Special K breakfast cereal. Frozen strawberries are popular in smoothies.
When there’s too many strawberries to eat during strawberry season, fresh strawberries are usually combined with sugar to make desserts. Jams are made and used to spread on toast or baked goods.
Strawberry shortcake is an iconic summer dessert pairing strawberries mashed with sugar, angel food cake, and whipped cream. Home bakers enjoy making strawberry pies. Chocolate covered strawberries are an easy (and romantic) treat!
Are Strawberries Legally a Fruit?
Even though strawberries are not technically fruits, legally they are.
This legal standard for fruits and vegetables was established in 1893 during the Nix v. Hedden case.
In the case, the United States Supreme court decided to use the ordinary meanings of the words “fruit” and “vegetable” to classify produce under customs regulations.
The primary justice overseeing the case, Justice Gray, stated that “when words have acquired no special meaning in trade or commerce, the ordinary meaning must be used by the court”.
The ordinary meaning does not include the botanical definition, but rather the general understanding of the court on the classification of the produce item as a fruit or vegetable.
In the case, the court unanimously voted to classify tomatoes as a vegetable because they were commonly referred to as vegetables not fruits, and because they were usually eaten as a main course or side, not as desserts like most fruits.
Is a Strawberry a Berry?
A strawberry is considered a berry by Merriam-Webster dictionary, horticulturally, and culturally. Judging by the process the court used to defined tomatoes as vegetables I think they would define strawberries as berries as well. However, in the most technical and scientific sense, strawberries are not berries by botanical definition.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary has multiple definitions for fruit. Depending which definition you refer to, strawberries can be considered both a fruit and not a fruit – how confusing!
The first related definition for fruit is “the usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant”.
Following this, strawberries are not technically a fruit! Remember how the flesh of a strawberry is not actually developed from the plant’s reproductive organ? The reproductive organs on strawberries are actually the seeds, not the flesh itself. Since the flesh of the strawberry is not the reproductive organ, it does not fit this definition of fruit!
The second definition of fruit is “the fleshy tissue part of a plant that conserves moisture and is used chiefly in a dessert or sweet course”. Now – that makes more sense!
The flesh of the strawberry is very juicy and has a lot of moisture. And it’s a very common way to eat strawberries in some kind of dessert or sweet treat. According to this definition, strawberries are definitely a fruit!
Since the two definitions of fruit are different, let’s check the definition for vegetable. Merriam-Webster defines vegetables as “a usually herbaceous plant grown for an edible part that is usually eaten as part of a meal”.
The strawberry plant itself is herbaceous – think of how many leaves a typical plant has! But the berry itself is not. The berry is edible, but the leaves are not.
Strawberries can technically be eaten as part of a meal… however it’s much less common to see strawberries not in desserts. The question is – do you consider dessert to be a meal?
The fate of strawberries gets a bit confusing when you look at the definition of a vegetable. It could go both ways, but most of the definition suggests that strawberries are not vegetables.
Time for a tie-breaker! Let’s check the definition of strawberry. A strawberry is defined as “the juicy edible usually red fruit of any several low-growing temperature herbs of the rose family that is technically an enlarged pulpy receptacle bearing numerous achenes on its surface”.
The word fruit is right in the definition! This definition of strawberry suggests that they are, in fact, a fruit.
A strawberry is also a berry according to the dictionary. A berry is defined as “a pulpy and usually edible fruit (such as a strawberry, raspberry, or checkerberry) of small size irrespective of its structure”.
Check out “How Do Strawberry Plants Grow?” to learn the growth habits of the plant and how they are grown commercially.
Interesting Facts About Strawberries
- California produces 75% of the strawberries produced in the United States. That’s almost one billion pounds of strawberries! If they were all laid berry to berry, they would go around the world 15 times.
- There are 103 species of strawberries. By far the most popular species is the Fragaria ananassa.
- Most of the varieties we grow today come from a line of strawberries that was produced in the 1700’s.
- 94% of American households eat strawberries.
- The average strawberry has 200 seeds.
- You can find the world’s largest strawberry shortcake in Lebanon, Oregon at their annual strawberry festival.
- According to the USDA, Americans eat almost 5 pounds of fresh and frozen strawberries every year!
- A prominent figure in Emperor Napoleon’s court, Madame Tallien, was famous for bathing in the juice of fresh strawberries, using 22 pounds per bath!
- Strawberries are grown in every single state in the United States and province in Canada!
- Despite their name, strawberries aren’t technically berries or even fruit. Botanists consider them to be “false fruits”.
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