Mad About Berries

Is Strawberry a Fruit or Vegetable?

Hardly anyone might wonder if a strawberry is a fruit or a vegetable as it’s been considered a fruit for a long time.

Well, this hypothesis is not wrong. A strawberry is a fruit. But it’s interesting to see why.

Published: September 19, 2022.

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Fruits vs. Vegetables

Generally, people call a plant part a fruit if it’s sweet or sour-tasing and a vegetable if the plant part is not sugary. Here it’s also important to consider which part one is eating.

While vegetables are considered as plants grown for their edible parts, the definition of the term ‘fruit’ is a more specific one.

Botanically, a fruit is mature, thickened ovary or ovaries of a seed-bearing plant, having some accessory parts like fleshy layers of tissue or ‘pulp’.

In this context, many of the foods that people consider casually as fruits, e.g., rhubarb (the leaf stalks of which are eaten), are not fruits and many popular vegetables actually fit the definition of fruit, e.g., tomato.

Further, fruits have sub-categories, one of which is a berry. The definition of berries may confuse people. It’s an indehiscent (one which doesn’t split apart upon maturity) fruit formed from a single ovary and has its whole wall fleshy.

All berries are not tiny and also not sweet. One will be surprised to know that tomatoes, avocados, and eggplants are botanically categorized as berries, whereas the popular strawberry is NOT a berry!

Technically, a fruit is a plant part that contains seeds. So, if one observes a strawberry, one notices that it’s dotted with small, yellow seed-like specks, which shows that it’s a fruit.

According to botanists, strawberry is a ‘false fruit,’ i.e., a pseudocarp.

It’s in fact multiple fruits that are formed of several tiny individual fruits embedded in a fleshy holder. The whitish or brownish specks, which people commonly consider seeds, are actually true fruits and are known as achenes.

Each achene contains a tiny seed. An average strawberry contains around 200 achenes which means that when one eats a strawberry, they eat many, many fruits.

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An achene is a small, dry fruit with one seed that’s formed inside a protective capsule. Thus, the small green seeds on the surface of a strawberry, known as achenes, are actually fruits. If one could slice one open, they’d see a seed inside.

Thus, each of the several green seeds attached to the fleshy part of the strawberry is an achene.

One eats the red, fleshy part that carries the fruit. This is known as the receptacle. Basically, it’s a part of the stem just under the flower that ripens and holds the flavor, color, and nutrients that are generally thought of.

Are Strawberries a Vegetable?

Vegetables are the edible stems, stalks, or leaves of the plants (except the parts that are parts of the plant’s reproductive system). Although the strawberry receptacle is a part of the stem, it also contains the plant’s ovaries.

Thus, a strawberry is not a vegetable. But it’s not even a berry.

Why Isn’t a Strawberry a Berry?

Commonly, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are considered berries. However, botanists don’t consider them berries.

It’s because true berries develop from the ovary of a flower and contain seeds and pulp. Blackberries and raspberries contain several ovaries merged together as one flower, so they are aggregate fruits and not berries.

To be a berry, the fruit should have three distinct fleshy layers – the exocarp (outer skin), mesocarp (fleshy middle), and endocarp (the innermost part that holds the seeds). The fruit should also have some kind of protective structure.

The exocarp, i.e., the outside layer, could be a skin, fuzz, or peel. Thus, a lemon, e.g., that contains a white rind (the exocarp), mesocarp just beneath the peel, and the fleshy insides that hold the seeds (endocarp), is a berry.

Strawberries don’t have these structures, and therefore, they are not botanically considered berries.

Also, in order to be a berry, the fruit should have two or more seeds and should develop from one flower that has one ovary. Strawberry flowers have multiple ovaries.

Usually, the seeds of the fruit are inside its fleshy parts. That way, strawberries don’t fit the definition of a typical fruit since its seeds are on the outside of its flesh.

The red flesh is just what holds the seeds; thus, the part people normally eat is the overgrown center of the flower. This seed-holding, the fleshy red pulp is the receptacle.

Each white flower on a strawberry plant has a yellow center, which continues to grow and ripen into the red, fleshy part of the plant.

Are Strawberries Aggregate Fruits?

An aggregate fruit is one that develops from a single flower, but the flower has more than one ovary. The multiple ovaries join together to form the fruit.

By definition, strawberries are accessory aggregate fruits. Each of the multiple ovaries of the strawberry flower produces an achene.

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Flower to Fruit: Growth Cycle of Strawberry

Strawberry belongs to the family Rosaceae (Rose), other members of the family being plums and apples.

A strawberry seed, which consists of genetic material, sprouts roots down into the soil. Then the stem grows up; it is made of several layers that make up the ‘skeleton’ for the fruit and leaves.

Then strawberry buds are formed. They are formed in the crowns of the strawberry plant. During this phase, water, sunlight, and nutrition is particularly important.

After a dormancy period, warm weather helps the buds to wake up, which then develop into flowers.

Each flower has 5 white petals and a yellow center, known as perianth. Perianth holds the future seeds (that will become the real fruits). Flowers are pollinated by insects or even manually when the strawberries are grown indoors.

As the strawberry matures, the fleshy part of the perianth swells, immersing the seeds at the ends. This gives rise to the red accessory flesh that holds the achenes or seeds. This is why, when one sees a cross-section of a strawberry, one can see the thin whitish lines extending from the middle towards the edges for each seed.

This is the reason, because of these achenes, strawberries are relatively high in fiber. Only one-half cup of strawberries contains more fiber than a slice of whole wheat bread and more than 70% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C.

When the flesh is fully formed, it’s still white or light green. But it will slowly but surely ripen and turn bright red. Sunlight is crucial for this.

If one buys strawberries that are mostly red but have white tops, they are underripe. White strawberries are also sold, but they are totally white.

Thus, when one eats a strawberry, they actually eat the fleshy perianth.

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Strawberries Eaten Today are Manmade!

Yes, the strawberries available today on the market, which one buys and eats, are actually manmade. They’re actually quite different than what one would find in the wild.

As such, many fruits and veggies are manmade, e.g., apples. Minor changes have been made to them to improve fruit size, crop yield, etc.

However, strawberries are a kind of experiment, but the results are delicious.

The cultivated strawberry is a hybrid of two different parents. Since they are hybrids, cultivated strawberries are usually capable of adapting to extreme weather conditions and environments.

As such, strawberries are grown in all 50 US states; but Florida and California are the largest producers.

The two species that were used to produce modern-day strawberries were the common North American Fragaria virginiana, and the Fragaria chiloensis brought all the way from Chile.

This happened back in the 1750s in Brittany, France. Since then, strawberries have been widely cultivated and improved upon, resulting in many cultivars.

Original strawberries are commonly found in forests and are much smaller. They are still found, at least in European forests, and are indeed very sweet and flavorful. Their size is about half of a green olive. They grow to a very small size, are squishy, and bright red, and their seeds are green.

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Bottom Line

All in all, as one might have thought so far, the plump, red, juicy strawberry that everyone loves to enjoy during the summertime is not the actual strawberry fruit, but it’s a collection of fruits that one thinks of as seeds, whereas the plump red strawberry is actually the overgrown center of a strawberry flower.

That way, strawberry is a lot different than other common fruits.

Strawberries are not even berries. Just because their name matches with other berries like cranberries and raspberries, they have long been considered berries. But given above is the explanation of what a true berry is.

But whether a strawberry is a fruit or vegetable or berry, one will agree that it’s delicious and full of nutrition, and that’s a big reason why everyone should eat them.

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