While you may think the answer would be obvious, determining if a strawberry is a vegetable or a fruit requires some scientific know-how!
Let’s take a look at whether a strawberry is a vegetable or a fruit with these helpful explanations.
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This is a question that has been debated for years. The answer to this question, however, doesn’t really matter. As long as you are eating it and you enjoy it, what difference does it make?
Strawberries are well-loved for a reason–their plump, juicy flesh provides the perfect amount of sun-ripened sweetness on a hot summer day.
But curiosity gets the best of us sometimes. As a former Biology teacher, I love when people are curious!
So what we want to know is, in the botanical sense of the word, is a strawberry a vegetable or a fruit?
To answer this question, let’s take an in-depth look at how each one is defined so we can come up with our own conclusion.
In common language, we typically think of these berries as a fruit, but the truth is, they aren’t actually berries, and they don’t fit the typical characteristics of a fruit.
Often, our common language doesn’t match scientific language, so let’s take a look at some of the differences here.
What is the Difference Between a Fruit and a Vegetable?
In the culinary sense, we often differentiate foods based on taste. So a fruit would be considered different from a vegetable because fruits are usually sweet and colorful. Vegetables, on the other hand, 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. For instance, as we discuss in the article about whether a carrot is a fruit or a vegetable, carrots are the edible roots of the plant, making them a vegetable.
Are Strawberries Considered Fruits or Vegetables?
As mentioned above, from a botanical standpoint, 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.
So yes, even squash, zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes are actually classified as fruits.
If the food is not part of the reproductive structure of the plant, it would be considered a vegetable.
What Makes Strawberries Different?
Typically, the seeds of a fruit are on the inside of the fleshy part. Strawberries don’t fit the mold of the typical fruit, though, because its seeds are on the outside of its flesh.
The red flesh is merely what holds the seeds–so the portion we normally eat is the overgrown middle of the flower. This seed-carrying, fleshy red pulp is the receptacle, of sorts.
Each white flower on the strawberry plant starts out with a yellow center, which continues to grow and ripen into the red fleshy part of the plant. You can see multiple stages of this maturation process in the image below.
What is an Achene?
An achene is a small dry fruit with one seed that’s formed inside a protective capsule.
The small green seeds on the surface of a strawberry, also known as achene, are the actual fruit. If you could slice one open, you’d see a seed inside!
So yes, each of the many green seeds attached to the fleshy part of the strawberry is an achene.
Are Strawberries Considered Aggregate Fruits?
The definition of an aggregate fruit is a fruit that develops from a single flower, but that flower has more than one ovary. The ovaries join together as the fruit grows.
In the case of strawberries, they are an accessory aggregate fruit. Each of the many ovaries of the strawberry flower produce an achene.
Are Strawberries Really Berries?
You may be surprised to know that strawberries are not true berries (neither are raspberries or blackberries, for that matter).
Botanically speaking, 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.
Take a lemon, for example. As I discuss in my article that answers the question, “Is a lemon a fruit or a vegetable,” we look at the parts of the fruit itself.
The outermost peel of the lemon is the exocarp, while its white rind just beneath the peel is considered the mesocarp, and the fleshy insides holding the seeds are considered the endocarp (so yes, lemons are botanically a berry).
Strawberries don’t have these structures and therefore cannot be considered berries in botanical terms.
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. Strawberry flowers have multiple ovaries.
Growth Cycle of a Strawberry Plant: Flower to Fruit
The strawberry plant is a member of the Rosaceae (Rose) family, which includes other fruits like apples and plums.
A strawberry seed, which contains its genetic material, sprouts roots down into the soil.
The plant then grows up a stem, which is made of many layers that act as the “skeleton” for the fruit and leaves.
This is followed by the eventual production of strawberry buds, which are formed in the crowns of the strawberry plants. Sunlight, water, and nutrients are especially important during this phase.
After a period of dormancy, warm weather helps to wake up the buds, which begin to flower.
These flowers are pollinated by insects. This results in the red accessory flesh that holds the achenes, or seeds.
Strawberries are Considered a Fruit
So there you have it! Who knew there were so many idiosyncracies and misnomers surrounding this summer time treat?
Hopefully you’ve learned something about these plants along the way!