Do you love strawberries ? Then you’re probably thinking of them as fruits, like most folks do, but are they a fruit or vegetable? It turns out strawberries have a lot more going on. Sometimes there’s a big difference between what is commonly accepted and what is scientifically accurate.
So let’s clear up this mystery, and figure out strawberries once and for all.
So is strawberry a vegetable or fruit ?
Strawberries are a fruit in the common sense, but very different from what you’d expect. The red, fleshy part of the strawberry is not the botanical fruit, it is the overgrown middle of the strawberry flower while the actual botanical fruits are the tiny green ‘seeds’ you see on the red flesh. This is because strawberries are very different from what we usually call fruits due to the way they develop and ripen.
And to clear things up, strawberries are also not berries ! They are usually thought of as berries because they seem to go with all the other berries like blueberries and raspberries but they are not, in fact, a true berry.
Technicalities of what strawberries actually are
Strawberries are fruits, but just barely. It’s really weird and we’re gonna need to get technical. They are a category of their own. The most accurate way of explaining what a strawberry is (the fleshy red part), is calling it a seed receptacle.
Meaning that the seeds you see when looking at the ‘fruit’ are the actual fruit. The green, small pods which are the fruits are actually called achene. The red, fleshy part is the overgrown middle of the strawberry flower. It serves the same purpose as a vine or branch from which other fruits would hang.
It might seem a little hard to comprehend, since we’ve thought of the whole strawberry as a fruit all our lives. But botany doesn’t agree with us, and you can’t really mess with science.
What are vegetables?
According to Wikipedia a vegetable is a part of a plant that humans or animals consume. This definition is a bit broad because the vegetable is more of a culinary term than a botanical one.
So a vegetable can be a plant’s stem, root, flowers, leaves, and so on. To clear things up, let’s see what fruits are.
Fruits are developed from a flower of a plant/tree, and they must have seeds, edible or not.
Any plant without seeds can be considered a vegetable, but this is more of a rule of thumb than the actual botanical definition.
What would it take for strawberries to be a ‘real’ fruit ?
Well, botanically fruits are only fruits if the seeds are inside the fleshy part. Meaning that the fleshy part is the casing/receptacle, and the seeds inside will sprout new plants if put in the ground.
Currently strawberries are inside-out, so to speak. The fruits are outside – the tiny green seed-like dots – and the red flesh they sit in/on is not protecting them.
They’re pretty much hanging there, like apples hang on the tree. Except they’d be laying on a cushion of sorts.
So if strawberries were to be fruits as we all know fruits, it’d mean the green seeds from the outside would have to be the main star, and also be inside of the red flesh.
Actually, if you want to get truly technical, there wouldn’t be any red flesh since that’s the equivalent of a vine or branch holding the fruit.
The green ‘seeds’ (achene) are the actual fruit, and if you were to cut them open and look under a microscope, you’d see they’ve got a seed inside.
So the actual fruit of the strawberry is incredibly tiny.
We should take a look at how a strawberry becomes an ‘adult’, going from flower to ‘fruit’ because things will seem much clearer.
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How a strawberry goes from flower to ‘fruit’
Like pretty much any other plant, strawberries first form a sort of flower, before fully maturing.
This flower usually has 5 white petals, with a yellow center – called a perianth – which holds the future seeds (that will also become the real fruits).
As the strawberry matures, the fleshy part of the perianth swells, engulfing the seeds at the ends.
This is why, if you’ve ever seen a cross-section of a strawberry, it has these thin white-ish lines going from the middle towards the edges, for each seed.
When the flesh is fully formed, it’s still white, or even light green. It will slowly but surely ripen and turn bright red, and sun exposure is crucial here.
If you’ve ever bought strawberries that were mostly red and still had a white top, they were underripe.
There are white strawberries for sale, but those are completely white.
So basically, when we eat strawberries, most of what we eat is actually the fleshy perianth.
And if this was news for you, then you might also like to know that strawberries as we know them are man made. Yep, they’re actually fairly different from what you’d find in the wild.
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Strawberries are man made
Many fruits and veg are man made, like apples for instance. Minor tweaks have been made to improve crop yield, fruit size, flavor, etc.
But strawberries are a sort of experiment, and a delicious one that that.
This was all the way back in 1750, France. Since then strawberries have been widely cultivated and improved upon, resulting in several cultivars.
Originally, the strawberry was much smaller and was commonly found in the forest. It can still be found, at least in European forests, and it’s indeed a very sweet and flavorful ‘fruit’.
In terms of size, it’s about half a green olive’s size. They grow very small, and are squishy, and the ‘seeds’ that are green on strawberries are bright red.
Strawberries are so common and delicious that they’ve become a part of our lives and we don’t question whether they are vegetables or fruits.
They’re used as a flavoring so often that kids grow up with them from the very beginning.
And seeing as these berries – well, they’re not berries – are so great, they definitely deserve their place in our kitchens and hearts.