Classifying Vegetables

Many people are bothered by the fact that tomatoes are referred to as vegetables when they are, in fact, fruits.Yes, tomatoes are fruits, and carrots are roots, and spinach is a leaf, and they are all vegetables.

To a botanist, the term fruit refers to a specific part of a plant, just as do the terms stem, root, and leaf. A fruit is defined as the ripened ovary or ovaries of a seed-bearing plant,and it contains the seeds.In other words,if it has seeds,it's a fruit.We shouldn't be misled by the fact that a few fruits are sweet. Many, if not most, fruits in nature are not sweet at all. Some examples of fruits used in the vegetable kitchen are tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, green beans, okra, cucumbers, squash,pea pods,walnuts, and avocados.

There are many ways of classifying vegetables. Some are more helpful to the cook than others. Putting vegetables into groups based on their botanical origin is not always helpful. For example, okra and eggplant are both fruits, but they are handled and cooked so differently that this information doesn't really help us.

The following vegetable categories are based, in part, on how the vegetables are used in the kitchen. For example, the vegetables listed under roots and tubers come from several unrelated families, but they all have fairly solid, uniform textures and are handled in similar ways.This is not a scientific classification, and it is not the only way to group vegetables.

Note that the first three categories are all fruits or,in a few cases, seeds from fruits.

• The gourd family: cucumber, winter and summer squashes,pumpkin, chayote

• Other tender-fruited vegetables: avocado, eggplant, sweet and hot peppers, tomato

• Roots and tubers: beet, carrot, celery root, parsnip, radish, turnip, rutabaga, Jerusalem artichoke,potato, sweet potato, jicama

• The cabbage family: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, bok choy

• The onion family: onion, scallion, leek, garlic, shallot

• Leafy greens: spinach, beet greens, lettuces, endive and chicory, Swiss chard, sorrel, watercress,collards,kale,turnip greens (the last three are also members of the cabbage family)

• Stalks,stems,and shoots:globe artichoke,asparagus,celery,fennel,fiddlehead ferns, bamboo shoots

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