13 Vegetables That Are Actually Fruits, Botanically Speaking

Yeah, most of these are fruits.
Yeah, most of these are fruits. / Jasmina007/iStock via Getty Images

For basic culinary purposes, the difference between fruits and vegetables can be boiled down to this: Fruits are generally sweet, and vegetables are generally savory. The botanical definition of vegetable is similarly general—it can be almost any edible part of a plant, from flower buds (like broccoli) to roots (like carrots). The word fruit, on the other hand, refers to one specific plant part. According to Lawrence M. Kelly, the New York Botanical Garden’s director of graduate studies, a fruit is “a mature, ripened ovary, along with the contents of that ovary” (seeds, for example). In other words, your salads, stir-fries, and other veggie-heavy dishes might feature more fruit than you think. Here are 11 so-called “vegetables” that are technically fruit.

1. Avocados

An assortment of avocados.
Avocados are a notoriously finicky fruit. / Justin Sullivan/GettyImages

An avocado is a fruit comprising a three-layer pericarp that surrounds its single seed. That pericarp is made of the exocarp (the peel or rind), the mesocarp (the edible flesh), and the endocarp (a sometimes imperceptible layer that protects the seed). Since the endocarp is thin, an avocado is also technically a berry. Fruits—like peaches—with thick endocarps (pits) around their seeds are drupes, not berries.

2. Olives

Martinis at the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan
Care for some fruit in your martini? / mark peterson/GettyImages

Olives, meanwhile, are drupes—and therefore, fruit. If you crack open the pit, you’ll see the actual seed of the olive tree, or Olea europaea.

3. Corn

corn being harvested
Corn is both a grain and a fruit. / Sean Gallup/GettyImages

Each corn kernel is an ovary that contains a single seed. Since the ovary wall is directly fused to the layer surrounding that seed, it lacks the fleshy middle and dries out easily. These fruits are known as caryopses, or grains. So, yes, a fruit can also be a grain.

4. Cucumbers

Fresh cucumbers seen displayed on the shelves of Wroclaw
Not surprisingly, cucumbers go really well in a watermelon salad. / SOPA Images/GettyImages

Cucumbers are fruit in the Cucurbitaceae family of plants, which also includes watermelon and cantaloupe (among others). This means, botanically speaking, those dill pickles you love (or love to hate) are actually pickled fruit.

5. Zucchini

assortment of zucchini and squash
Members of the Cucurbitaceae family are quite fruity. / Mario Tama/GettyImages

The Cucurbitaceae family plays host to several other fruits masquerading as vegetables, including zucchini, acorn squash, butternut squash, and all other kinds of squash.

6. Chayote

Chayote Squash displayed for sale at local Farmer's Market
People often cook chayote like they would a summer squash. / Barbara Rich/Moment/Getty Images

Chayote is another member of the Cucurbitaceae family, and though it’s typically a part of savory dishes, it is indeed a fruit. Some compare the flavor to that of a cucumber, while others detect notes of apple.

7. Pumpkins

A Squirrel Stands On A Halloween Jack-O'-Lantern
This squirrel is a fan of carved fruit. / Joe Raedle/GettyImages

With their rinds, fleshy interiors, and seeds, pumpkins match the aforementioned botanical description of fruit. They’re also a type of squash, making them a surprisingly close relative of the cucumber and, of course, a fruit.

8. Okra

Chili peppers and okra are offered for sale at a morning market
Okra isn’t the only fruit in this picture. / David Longstreath/GettyImages

Okra is the seed-filled fruit of Abelmoschus esculentus, a flowering plant in the Malvaceae family (or mallow family).

9. String Beans

a basket of freshly picked string beans
A nice fruit basket. / Andrew Lichtenstein/GettyImages

Since string beans are full pods—casing, seeds, and all—they’re also fruit, as are other bean pods from leguminous plants. If you’re only referring to the individual beans inside, however (like peas), you’re really just talking about seeds, not fruit.

10. Eggplants

Aubergines on Sale, India
Eggplants, otherwise known as aubergines. / Tim Graham/GettyImages

The eggplant belongs to the Solanaceae family, sometimes called the “potato family” or “deadly nightshade family,” since potato and nightshade plants also fall under its umbrella. But while potatoes are tubers—and therefore true vegetables—eggplants are seed-bearing fleshy fruits that grow from the flowers of the Solanum melongena plant.

11. Peppers

Low-hanging fruit.
Low-hanging fruit. / kentarus/iStock via Getty Images

All peppers are members of the Solanaceae family, too. No matter how “hot” one is—for which you can thank a chemical called capsaicin—it’s still technically a fruit.

12. Tomatoes

purple and red tomatoes
You probably already knew that tomatoes are fruit. / Handout/GettyImages

Tomatoes, which also hail from the Solanaceae family, are probably the best-known example of a fruit often mistaken for a vegetable. But like so many other foods on this list, they’re really only considered fruit if you’re asking botanists. In 1893, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that tomatoes were vegetables in a case over high import taxes on vegetables.

13. Tomatillos

green tomatillos on a wooden counter
Not tomatoes. / Roberta Lazar/500px/Getty Images

Tomatillos—which is a separate species of plant, and not just a name for little tomatoes—are also fruit. Like tomatoes, people can eat them raw or cooked.

A version of this story originally ran in 2021; it has been updated for 2022.