Have you ever wondered if potatoes are fruits or vegetables?
You’ve probably heard the term “fruit salad,” but what exactly do we mean when referring to something that combines multiple foods into one dish?
There’s no official definition of the word “salad.” It refers to any food served as a side for an entrée and can be made from anything ranging from leafy greens to meat, seafood or even dairy products like cheese. The same goes with its companion word – “dish.” So while technically speaking there isn’t a strict definition of these words, they both refer to something edible. To further complicate things, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines them differently based on how they’re used in everyday life. For example, it considers salads to include raw leaves, sprouts, herbs and spices, lettuce, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions, bell peppers and onions while defining dishes as including eggs, meat, fish or poultry, pasta, rice, baked goods, breads, soups, stews, gravies, sauces, puddings and sweets.
But regardless of whether you consider potato salad to be part of the salad family or not, I think most people would agree that this tasty concoction deserves some kind of distinction — especially because it contains two very different types of foods. Potatoes have been cultivated since prehistoric times, so by now you know that their origins date back thousands of years. T
They were first grown by indigenous South American tribes who called them yucca long before Christopher Columbus brought them over to Europe where King Henry VIII was known to eat potatoes at least once per week during his reign. In fact, the Spanish word for potato is still yuca. But unlike other members of the sweet potato family, such as bananas and plantains, potatoes don’t share DNA with animals and fungi, which means they aren’t considered either a fruit or a vegetable depending on whom you ask.
Some botanists classify them as neither, though others argue that potatoes belong in the veggie category due to their ability to photosynthesize and produce sugars through cellular respiration similar to how plants function. Regardless, eating a bowl of mashed potatoes should feel more complex than just munching on a carrot or broccoli stem.
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So why does everyone want to categorize potatoes as being part of the veggie group?
Well, aside from having a unique taste profile, potatoes also contain phytochemicals like carotenoids, flavonoids and anthocyanins that many scientists believe help prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease. These compounds may also play a role in reducing inflammation throughout the body.
Additionally, studies suggest that consuming potatoes might reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart failure. And although potatoes aren’t typically thought of as high-calorie treats, research has shown that diets rich in carbohydrates tend to increase levels of insulin in our bodies, which could lead to weight gain. Eating lots of carbs without adequate exercise is linked to obesity, heart problems and premature death, which makes choosing between french fries and hash brown casserole every day difficult.
Now that we’ve given potatoes their rightful place in the veggie hierarchy let’s talk about some interesting questions related to the debate surrounding whether they qualify as fruits or veggies.
What is a fruit?
Before delving too far into this topic, it’s important to define what constitutes a “fruity” treat versus something else entirely. There are several ways to separate out the different categories of edibles. According to Dr. Peter Melchett, professor emeritus at Cornell University, there are three main components that determine whether something is classified as a fruit or a vegetable.
First, he says, is size. A fruit must have seeds within it, whereas a vegetable doesn’t necessarily need to have any. Second, the chemical makeup of the flesh determines whether it qualifies as a fruit or a vegetable. If the flesh of the item doesn’t undergo changes after harvesting, then it counts toward the vegetable category. Thirdly, the way the product is consumed matters.
Vegetables are eaten whole, while fruits are eaten mostly undamaged. While all parts of the tomato count toward the vegetable category, only the pulp of a banana qualifies as a fruit. On top of those basic rules, there are a few exceptions. Apples, pineapples and papayas fall under the fruit category despite containing seeds. Pomegranates and figs are often referred to as fruits, but according to Melchitt, they actually constitute the largest portion of a seedless melon. Other examples of items that are sometimes categorized as fruits but should really go under the heading of vegetables include avocados, eggplants, olives, artichokes, peaches, nectarines, mangoes, watermelon and pineapple.
What is a vegetable?
If you’ve got a hankering for some delicious green goodness, check out this list of 10 superfoods you should add to your grocery cart next time you hit the supermarket. You’ll find plenty of fresh varieties that pack nutrients like lutein, potassium, and fiber.
Most experts recommend stocking up on leafy greens like kale, collard greens, and mustard greens, plus root vegetables like parsnips, radishes, carrots, and turnip greens. Leafy greens provide us with calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and vitamin C, while root veggies give us vitamins B6, K, folate, manganese, and pantothenic acid. Fruits and vegetables alike supply us with antioxidants. Antioxidant molecules protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals attack healthy tissues and accelerate aging. By adding colorful veggies and fruits to your diet, you can lower oxidative stress and thereby improve your overall health.
Are potatoes vegetables?
The question remains, however… are potatoes truly fruits or vegetables? Let’s take another look at the criteria previously mentioned regarding whether something falls into the fruit or vegetable category. Since potatoes produce starch rather than sugar via cellular respiration, they’re classified as a carbohydrate instead of a true fruit.
However, according to Harvard Medical School nutrition expert Walter Willett, potatoes are indeed fruits because they grow underground and eventually become edible tuberous roots. He argues that the difference lies in the stage of development of each crop.
Tuber crops, such as potatoes, are harvested before fully mature and continue to develop underground. Once dug up and exposed to air, their skin turns yellow and begins producing starches, much like a corn kernel. As opposed to this process, a typical apple ripens above ground and loses its nutritional value quickly after harvest. Therefore, potatoes are considered fruits because they retain their nutrient content longer than apples.
In addition to the issue of whether potatoes are fruits or vegetables, there is also disagreement among botanists as to whether they are included in either category. That said, there are enough similarities between potatoes and other tubers like cassava and taro to keep them in the same category. Furthermore, potatoes themselves are divided into four major groups: Russet Burbank, Norland, German Blue Strain and Atlantic. Each variety harbors varying amounts of nutrients and minerals, thus contributing to the argument behind their classification as either a vegetable or fruit.
Although there is an ongoing discussion concerning whether potatoes are fruits or vegetables, there’s no doubt they deserve a spot somewhere in the middle. Like everything else on Earth, there is room for gray areas. We may never come to closure on all the complicated issues surrounding this popular snack staple until someone finally decides to conduct the scientific study needed to clear up the confusion. Until then, enjoy!