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Are Pickles a Fruit or a Vegetable?

Imagine this: you’re eating dinner. In front of you lies a juicy hamburger topped high with your favorite condiments and a generous handful of potato chips. You know it isn’t the healthiest meal ever. 

What tasty side dish can you add that will boost your meal’s nutrient levels and help to fulfil one of the main food groups? 

A classic choice is the pickle. However, what food group does this side dish satisfy? Is it a fruit or a vegetable? The answer may surprise you!


What are pickles made out of?

The word “pickles” is actually a shortened version of this dish’s actual name: “pickled cucumbers“. In other parts of the world, such as Britain and Ireland, pickles can also be known as “gherkins”.(1) (2)

Pickles are made when a cucumber undergoes the process known as “pickling”; hence, why they are called “pickles”. During the pickling process, the cucumber’s PH (or acidity level) is lowered so as to kill bacteria and greatly increase shelf life. 

While a regular cucumber may only last a few days in the fridge, when left unopened in a jar, store-bought pickles can last for up to 5 years. Other popular pickled foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, and olives. (3) (4)

In order to make pickles, there are a few simple ingredients that you will need: cucumbers, garlic, dill, water, white vinegar, and salt. 

All you have to do is cut the pickles to the desired size, heat all other ingredients together in a saucepan until everything is dissolved, and the pour the mixture over the cucumbers. 

However, depending on the specific recipe and what kind of pickles you want to make, the recipe may be slightly different.


What is a vegetable?

Vegetables are defined as any plant whose fruit, seeds, roots, tubers, bulbs, stems, leaves, or flower parts are used as food. However, this definition doesn’t appear to be very helpful in telling the differences between fruits and vegetables. (5)

However, there are couple of keys ways that you can tell vegetables apart from fruits:

  • Vegetables are generally considered to be edible stalks, roots, leaves, tubers, bulbs or flower buds
  • Vegetable do not have seeds

On the cucumber plant, the cucumber itself is what is called a “ripe ovary“. It is the part of the plant that contains the ovules, or the seeds. 

The fleshy part of the cucumber is meant to disperse and protect the seeds; this is why they taste so good! As animals eat the cucumbers, digest them, and defecate them out somewhere far away from the parent plant, the cucumber plant is given an opportunity to spread to new areas. 

However, because the cucumber has seeds and is not one of the botanical structures listed above, it isn’t technically a vegetable.

According to these criteria, it would then appear as though pickles are technically not vegetables. But how is this possible? 

Aren’t fruits supposed to be sweet? And what about tomatoes, wouldn’t that mean that they aren’t vegetable either?


What is a fruit?

Fruits are then defined as the edible part of a plant developed from a flower, with any accessory tissues. Essentially, they are any plant-based food that has seeds.

Generally, it is true that most fruits are sweet. There are some notable exceptions, such as the lemon and lime, but most fruits tend to be be much sweeter than their cousin, the vegetable. For cucumbers specifically, it would then appear as though it’s technically a fruit that tastes like a vegetable.

If you still aren’t convinced that the cucumber is a fruit, then maybe we’re looking at the wrong definitions. Instead of asking a botanist who specializes in plants, what if we were to ask a chef that specializes in cooking them?


What is the culinary definition of fruits and vegetables?

According to the culinary arts, the issue of taste is far more important in classifying fruits and vegetables than the plant’s physical characteristics. 

Based on a food’s specific taste, it will be used in various different contexts. For example, while a tomato may be botanically defined as a fruit, you’ll never catch a chef putting one in a fruit salad. (6) (7)

Another key factor in determining the difference between fruits and vegetable from a culinary standpoint is texture. 

Fruits are usually soft and much easier to eat, while vegetables can oftentimes be tougher and have more of a pronounced texture. As usual, there are always exceptions: 

while an apple’s skin may result in it having a tough texture, it’s sweetness firmly plants it in the “fruit” category (pun fully intended). 

In most recipes, you’ll usually find cucumbers combined with other vegetables instead of fruits.


So now we know about cucumbers, but what about pickles?

Because pickles are just a modified version of cucumbers, their fruit/vegetable status doesn’t change. Even though the taste and textures change drastically, this does not cause them to hop from category to category. 

Another example to consider would be blueberry pie; when you make a blueberry pie, the taste and texture of the berry itself changes immensely. However, it’s still considered to be a fruit pie.


So are Pickles a fruit or a vegetable?

Long story short, it depends on who you ask. A botanist may give you one answer, while a seasoned chef may tell you the complete opposite.

The main thing to keep in mind when asking is: why do you want to know? If it’s for writing a paper for your Botany 101 class, you may want to go with the more scientific approach and define it as a fruit. 

However, if you’re trying to decide whether or not to put cucumbers in your favorite fruit salad, you might want to leave them off.

When you’re eating your burger, it doesn’t really matter whether or not it’s considered a fruit or a vegetable because it tastes good! 

Pickles are also a good source of immune system-supporting antioxidants, probiotics, and Vitamins A and K, so they’re pretty healthy! Just remember: just like any other food, make sure to eat them in moderation! (8)

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