From WikiMD's Food, Medicine & Wellness Encyclopedia

Diagram of flower, cut open, showing the ovary

In botany, a fruit is a specialized plant structure that contains and protects the plant's seeds. The botanical definition of a fruit encompasses structures arising specifically from the ovary of a flower. Contrary to this scientific understanding, in everyday language, the term 'fruit' often refers to sweet or savory plant structures consumed in various culinary contexts. The differentiation between 'fruits' and 'vegetables' in culinary parlance does not always align with botanical classifications.

Botanical Definition[edit | edit source]

The botanical concept of a fruit is rooted in the flower's reproductive structure. Specifically, a fruit develops from a flower's ovary and may incorporate other flower parts. The primary purpose of the fruit is to protect seeds and aid in their dispersion. The fleshy, often edible part of the fruit is termed the mesocarp. This layer, positioned between the outer skin (exocarp) and the seeds, is what humans commonly consume.

Types of Fruits[edit | edit source]


Botanical classification provides various categories based on the fruit's structure and development:

Berry[edit | edit source]

A simple fruit developed from a single ovary, berries have seeds encased in a fleshy middle. Examples include grapes, kiwi, and tomatoes.

Pepo[edit | edit source]

A subtype of berry with a hard outer rind, pepos are typical of gourd family fruits. Watermelon and squash are prime examples.

Hesperidium[edit | edit source]

A citrus category, hesperidia are berries with a leathery rind and juicy interior. Examples are oranges, lemons, and limes.

Pome[edit | edit source]

Originating from a compound ovary, pomes have a papery core containing seeds. Examples include apples and pears.

Drupe[edit | edit source]

Drupes, or stone fruits, contain a single seed encased in a hard shell or "stone." The surrounding flesh may be soft or hard. Examples are cherries, peaches, and plums.

Accessory Fruits[edit | edit source]

Also termed pseudofruits, these fruits derive from parts of the flower other than the ovary, like the receptacle. The strawberry, where the "seeds" on the exterior are the actual fruit (achenes), while the flesh is the receptacle, is an example.

Non-botanical Fruits[edit | edit source]

In culinary contexts, several botanical fruits are treated as vegetables due to their savory flavors. Examples include tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers. On the other hand, some botanical vegetables, like rhubarb, are treated as fruits in culinary practices due to their sweet taste when cooked.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The term "fruit" embodies different meanings within botanical and culinary domains. While botanists define fruits based on their origin from the flower's ovary, culinary practices might label the same items based on flavor profiles or usage in dishes. This duality emphasizes the importance of context in understanding the classification of fruits.

See Also[edit | edit source]


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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD