There is an age-old debate in the culinary world that you're probably familiar with. Tomato: fruit or vegetable? But there's another lesser known existential crisis in the kitchen that demands some attention too. Bananas: Are they berries? And if so, what the heck are berries anyway?
These particular dilemmas may have never crossed your mind, but once you start digging into the topic, you might find you end up with more questions than you start out with. For instance, what even is a fruit? Botanists consider fruit to be the parts of flowering plants that develop from the ovary. And a vegetable? That's a little trickier, since it's pretty much any part of the plant that isn't considered fruit.
Within the fruit family, you've got subcategories that include citrus, stonefruit, pome (apples, pears), drupe (peaches and apricots), and — you guessed it — berries. The differences between these subcategories comes down to which part of the plant's flower and ovary produced the skin, flesh and seeds of the fruit in question.
The technical definition of a berry is "a fleshy fruit produced from a single ovary." If you're not too familiar with botany, this definition probably isn't helpful at all. But once you learn that oranges and tomatoes fit that definition to a T and could therefore be considered berries, you may start to question reality.
Go a step further and find out that strawberries — yes, those delicious red fruits with "berries" literally in the name — aren't officially berries either. They're "accessory fruits," meaning the flesh that surrounds the seed doesn't actually come from the plant's ovaries but from the ovaries' receptacle. Didn't think we'd be talking so much about ovaries in this article, did you? By the way, raspberries aren't really berries either. I'll let you take a minute to collect yourself.
So if strawberries and raspberries have been masquerading as berries all this time and they're not, what even is a berry? Well a berry has three layers of flesh: the exocarp (the outer skin), mesocarp (the flesh in the middle), and endocarp (the innermost part that holds the seeds).
Guess what has all those layers? The yellow-peeled, white fleshed, seed-carrying banana.
Berries also must have two or more seeds, and their fruit must develop from a flower with one ovary. Once again, the banana checks those boxes. And, weirdly, so does the tomato, eggplant, kiwi and pepper. Oranges are a specific type of berry called hesperidium thanks to their distinct segments.
So in conclusion, bananas are berries, strawberries and raspberries are not, and you will never again know peace in the produce section.
Originally Published: Jan 7, 2020