Find out if a lemon is technically a fruit or a vegetable, and why, in this simple explanation.
Is a lemon a fruit or a vegetable? Let’s look at the differences to find out.
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It’s a question that many have pondered over the years: is a lemon considered to be a fruit or vegetable?
Lemons are well-loved for both their tartness and sweetness, and have many culinary uses.
As a former Biology teacher, I love it when people ask questions and become curious about facts and information.
So let’s take a look at whether a lemon is a vegetable or a fruit.
Are Lemons Considered Fruits or Vegetables?
Botanically speaking, lemons are classified as citrus fruits and bear little resemblance to traditional vegetables like carrots or broccoli.
Scientifically, something is considered a fruit if it’s a seed-bearing structure developing from the ovary of a flowering plant.
Vegetables, then, are the rest of the edible parts of a plant–the leaves, stalks, stems, etc.
An easy way to think of this is to determine whether the food in question is the mode by which the plant gets its seeds out into the world? If so, it would be a fruit.
In culinary terms, however, the classification of “fruit” becomes less clear.
The consensus among culinary experts seems to be that lemons can go either way, since they are used in both sweet and savory dishes.
However, most agree that lemons are used more often in sweet dishes, making them more commonly regarded as fruit.
What is the Difference Between a Fruit and a Vegetable?
Culinary and botanical definitions of fruits vary a bit, so let’s look at each.
In the culinary sense, we often differentiate foods based on taste. Fruits are usually sweet and colorful, whereas vegetables can be either savory or have a sour or even bitter taste to them.
But in the botanical sense, a fruit is defined as “the fleshy or dry ripened ovary of a flowering plant that contains seeds.”
Vegetables are defined as the edible parts of a plant, typically stems, roots and leaves. So if we’re asking if a carrot is a fruit or a vegetable, it would be a vegetable since it’s the root of the plant.
Lemons fit the botanical definition of a fruit, not a vegetable.
Are Lemons Classified as Berries?
You may be surprised to find out that lemons are actually classified as berries!
In the botanical sense, a berry has three distinct fleshy layers: the exocarp (outer skin), mesocarp (fleshy middle) and endocarp (innermost part, which holds the seeds).
In order to be a berry, the fruit needs to have some type of protective structure. This exocarp, or its outside layer, could be a peel, skin or fuzz.
In the instance of a lemon, the outermost peel would be considered the exocarp, while its white rind, or pith, just beneath the peel is considered the mesocarp, and the fleshy insides holding the seeds are considered the endocarp.
Not only that, but in order to be considered a berry, the fruit should contain two or more seeds and develop from one flower that has one ovary.
So yes, everyone’s favorite yellow citrus fruit is considered a berry!
In my article that answers the question is a strawberry a vegetable or a fruit, we discuss why strawberries aren’t actually berries at all, yet lemons are! So interesting, right?
Are Lemons a Natural Fruit?
Lemons, botanically classified as Citrus limon, are actually a hybrid fruit, not a naturally-occurring fruit. This means they are the result of a genetic cross between two other fruits.
Specifically, lemons are a hybrid between the bitter orange and citron fruit.
The citron fruit naturally has a lot of pith and very little pulp. Many types of citrus fruits are hybrids involving the citron fruit.
The bitter orange, on the other hand, is a cross between a mandarin orange and pomelo. Interestingly, the sweet orange is also a cross between these two varieties, but has a sweet flavor instead of the more bitter flavor.
Growth Cycle of a Lemon Plant
A lemon seed, which contains its genetic material, sprouts roots down into the soil.
Then, it sends up a stem and two leaves.
The plant will continue to grow, more leaves and branching off further.
Two to five years after planting, the plant, now considered a lemon tree, will produce wonderfully fragrant flowers. Each branch contains male and female flowers.
If the flowers undergo pollination, the fertilization will result in the production of seed-containing lemons.
The lemons start out small and green, continuing to grow and turn yellow as they ripen.
Uses for Lemons
Lemons are one of the most widely used citrus fruits.
They’re often added to dishes to add a bright, tart flavor, and they can also be used in place of vinegar or lemon juice when cooking.
The acidity of lemons is ideal for salad dressings. Lemons also contain pectin, which is perfect for making homemade jam.
In addition to lemon juice, you can also use lemon zest (finely grated peel) to add wonderful lemon flavor to dishes.
In addition, some people use lemon medicinally. It has been used to treat scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency.
Still others use lemons for cleaning and freshening up odors. The lemon oil can be extracted and used in many ways, too.
Lemons are Considered Fruits
So there you have it! Now you not only know that lemons are fruit, but you also know why.
Hopefully you’ve learned something about these plants along the way!