Monday, November 7, 2011

Culinary IQ: Monday, November 7, 2011; Overview of Fruits

Fruits vs. Vegetables

Have you ever had that argument over a tomato? Is it a vegetable or a fruit? Technically it is a berry, a subcategory of fruits. Fruits are botanically defined as the ripened ovaries of flowering plants that have seeds. While the most specific definition of a vegetable is the edible portion of plant that cannot be used to reproduce that plant, i.e.: a celery stock, a leaf of lettuce, a carrot or a beet. We tend to classify any produce that lacks sweetness as a vegetable while many of them are botanically fruits.

Over the course of the week I will be discussing some of the various types of fruits, their origins, nutritional values and how they can be used in your cooking. Today I am going to give you a brief overview of the more common fruits in our diets.
A berry is a fruit produced from the single ovary. They may have one or more carpels with a thin covering and fleshy interiors. The seeds are usually embedded in the flesh of the ovary. The most common associate to the name berry is a small edible fruit. From the following examples of berries you will see that they are not always small. Fruits that are technically berries include, bananas, grapes, tomato, pumpkin and watermelon among many others.

A stone fruit or drupe is a fruit in which an outer fleshy part surrounds a shell with a seed inside. Surprisingly the almond is a drupe and not a nut. The almond is actually the seed inside the shell of the fruit. Other examples of drupes include, coffee, coconut, date, mango, cherry, pistachios, peaches, plums as well as many others.

A nut in botany is a simple dry fruit with one seed (rarely two) in which the ovary wall becomes very hard (stony or woody) at maturity, and where the seed remains attached or fused with the ovary wall, all nuts are indehiscent (not opening at maturity). Examples of nuts include chestnuts and hazelnuts. We commonly define many species as nuts that do not meet the botanical definition. Almonds, pecans and walnuts are technically the seeds of drupe fruits. The cashew is a seed and the peanut is technically a legume.

I am sure we will continue to use the more commonly used classifications of fruits but it is interesting to know a little about the actual classifications. 

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