What is a Vegetable?

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You’ve probably heard it said that a tomato is not a vegetable, it’s a fruit.  Botanically speaking, it is a fruit, but from a culinary viewpoint, it is a vegetable. It is joined by a number of other botanical fruits which we consider to be vegetables:

  • cucumber
  • squash
  • zucchini
  • pumpkin
  • peppers
  • eggplant
  • tomatillos
  • christophene (which I have never heard of)
  • okra
  • breadfruit
  • avocado

When looking for a good definition of the word “vegetable,” I found it wasn’t as cut and dry as I thought.  I decided I like Wikipedia’s definition the best since it clearly states the ambiguity.

“The noun vegetable usually means an edible plant or part of a plant other than a sweet fruit or seed. 

However, the word is not scientific, and its meaning is largely based on culinary and cultural tradition. Therefore, the application of the word is somewhat arbitrary and subjective.”

The vegetables we eat come from many different parts of plants including flower buds, leaves, stems, roots, tubers, and bulbs, among others. 

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Is Corn a Vegetable?
 
I have always heard that corn is a grain, not a vegetable.  However, I have read some conflicting information on that.  First, corn, also known as maize, is a grass, just as wheat is a grass.  The kernels come from the reproductive part of the plant and are a dry fruit otherwise known as a grain.

I did find an interesting statement on Wikipedia, though:

“A genetic variant that accumulates more sugar and less starch in the ear is consumed as a vegetable and is called sweet corn.”

A University of Maine site says:

“Field corn that is harvested when the seeds are dry would thus be considered a grain. Sweet corn when harvested before maturity is usually considered a vegetable. It is grown to be eaten fresh as a tender vegetable rather than as a dried grain suitable for grinding into flour or meal.  A vegetable is defined as a plant cultivated for an edible part or parts such as roots, stems, leaves, flowers, or seeds/fruit. 

If you want to be very precise, all cereal grains could be called vegetables, but by convention we separate the cereal grains from the rest of the “vegetables” such as peas, lettuce, potatoes, cabbage, etc.”

My thought is that while all grains could be called vegetables, we don’t call them vegetables.  Why do we only call corn a vegetable?  Even sweet corn contains a lot of starch compared to other vegetables with the exception of potatoes and sweet potatoes.  However, potatoes are not usually considered a vegetable when we do our meal planning.  We usually categorize them with other starchy foods such as pasta and rice.  For that reason, I also categorize corn as a starchy food when meal planning.  We enjoy popcorn, but other than that we don’t eat corn often except in the summer when I can get fresh corn on the cob from the farmer’s market.  When we do eat it for dinner, I considered it to be the starchy part of our meal, and I make sure I provide other vegetables.

Do you consider corn to be a vegetable?  What is your favorite vegetable?


Mine is a toss up between broccoli  and zucchini.

This post is the second in a series on vegetables.  Last week’s post was:

Getting Kids to Eat Vegetables




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Comments

  1. Cara @ Health Home and Happiness says:

    I'm glad to know that we can consider tomatoes and other non-sweet fruits vegetables for writing purposes :) Interesting thoughts about corn. We don't eat corn unless it's GMO free, which most isn't.

  2. GF Gidget says:

    I think corn is a vegetable. My fav veggie is whichever one I happen to be eating! Seriously though, my current favorite vegetable is Brussel Sprouts.

  3. Stephanie says:

    My favorite veggies have to be kale and tomatoes! Hm, I totally ate both today! Although, when I think of a *perfect* tomato, I think: garden fresh, still slightly warm from the sun, and so much juicier than winter tomatoes.

  4. DH and I just had this conversation. He told me that anything with a see is a fruit. That is what he learned in school. Corn is a veggie to me.

  5. Michelle says:

    Well, I considered corn a vegetable until I was diagnosed. Then I started using corn starch to cook a lot and thought, huh? How is this a veggie? I still LOVE it though!

    I would say that okra is probably my favorite veggie. Oh, boy, my Southern roots are showing through.

  6. Jessie says:

    I too heard that fruit have seeds but if we can count tomatoes, and many of those other "fruits" you've mentioned Linda then I'm sure to get my veggie quota especially when my garden is ripe! I'm sure missing garden tomatoes right now!

    Fave veggie? Hmm, probably the skinniest asparagus (not those fat, stringy kind)

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