Are Tomatoes a Fruit or a Vegetable?

The warm weather means that it’s just about time for heirloom tomatoes to make a big splash. We love the rich flavors of tomatoes and the variety of uses they offer; but people often have one recurring question when it comes to tomatoes – are they a fruit or a vegetable? The source of this confusion may surprise you.

The United States passed the Tariff Act of 1883, which required a 10% tax on imported vegetables (but not fruit). The reason for the tariff was to help farmers from the South recover produce business they had lost during the Civil War. Tomatoes were given the 10% import tax, as they were commonly prepared in the same way vegetables were: savory dishes, soups, and condiments.

When a Manhattan wholesaler, John Nix & Co, got hit with the10% tariff on a shipment of Caribbean tomatoes, he argued that tomatoes were botanically fruits, not vegetables, and that he shouldn’t have to pay the tax. John Nix sued, and the case wound up before the Supreme Court in 1893.

The court voted unanimously that tomatoes should be classified by how they were used, not by what they technically were. One of the justices said: “Botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas. But in the common language of the people, whether sellers or consumers of provisions, all these are vegetables.”

John Nix lost the case, and tomatoes were legally declared vegetables. This disagreement continues today, as Tennessee and Ohio have named the tomato their state fruit, while New Jersey has made it the state vegetable.

Whether you side with the botanists or the chefs on this issue, we know you’re going to love the California grown heirloom tomatoes that are coming in from Veliz Organic Farm!


“Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.
Wisdom is not putting it in your fruit salad.“
– Brian O’Driscoll


Merchandising Corner

What are Produce Buyers Looking Forward to?

It’s mid-summer and everyone is swimming in stone fruit, so we decided to ask some produce industry friends about the upcoming products that they’re looking forward to.

  • Tammy Graham from New Moon Natural Food Tahoe City can’t wait for the next wave of figs to hit. She loves to build large fig displays with all the colors, and even works in some bottles of balsamic vinegar. She says the Knoll Farm figs are a surprising hit with the customers, even though they are not in baskets.
  • Tammy is also looking forward to the new-crop California pears and heirloom apples. Increasingly popular apples are: Roxbury Russet, Cinnamon Spice, King David, Winesap, Cortland, Pink Pearl, and Sierra Beauty. Like heirloom tomatoes, these varieties are not uniform in shape or color, but have compelling individual qualities in flavor, texture, or sweet-tart balance.
  • Mary Diaz from Sacramento Natural Foods is waiting for the Marian Farm Biodynamic Thompson grape totes to start up. They are super sweet, with small, amber colored berries. Mary says that customers appreciate the paper tote, which is a nice relief from the more common plastic pouch. Marian Farms expects to harvest Thompsons mid-August.
  • Both Tammy and Mary said they are waiting for the orchid melons. These small watermelons are seeded, sweet, and crunchy. They also have a beautiful, pale orange color.

Orchid melons are currently available, while figs and Marian Farm grapes aren’t too far behind. Keep checking the list or ask your Account Manager to give you a heads-up when these products are about to start up.


Weather Watch

  • Sustained triple-digit heat in California is causing increased insect pressure on the corn crop, so if you see an occasional worm on the tip, do not panic. Supply may be limited if the worm damage is heavy; be ready to offer customers trimmed corn later in the summer.
  • Heat waves also affect pollination of berries and melons. We may see gaps in supply if the pollinators have been too heat-stressed to do their valuable work.
  • An extreme hailstorm back in April virtually destroyed Ferrari Farm’s Spice-Zee nectaplum crop, a VV staff favorite. You will have to wait until next year if you are in the nectaplum cult.
  • Our friends at EARTHseed, in Sonoma County, just north of San Francisco, are sad to report their pluot crop was hit hard by frost this spring and they need to keep everything for their local u-pick business. Unfortunately, we have to skip their Honey Punch, Candy Stripe, and Flavor Gem pluots this season.


New and Exciting

California Wildfire Gala: Just arrived, these apples have a full-colored deep, red skin, with an excitingly sweet flavor.

Cherry Tomato: A lot of exciting varieties are coming in, including Juliet, Orange Grape, Pink Cherry, Black Cherry, Sweet 100, and Sungold. And if you can’t decide, we have the multi-colorful Mixed Medley! And a new cardboard-pint pack is available from Veliz Organic Farm.

Cucumber: California grown slicing cucumbers are here and are abundant.

Grape: Just in, Three Sister’s Champagne grapes are tiny, seedless, juicy and low-acid with dark purple skin. A real conversation starter, and cute as heck when fresh; when dried (like a raisin) the champagne grape is also known as the currant in your scone.

Grapefruit: The Star Ruby just landed. It has deep pink flesh, a juicy quality, and a delicious balance of sweet and tart.

Tomato Mixed Heirloom* Heirloom Tomato (left): We’re excited about the mixed heirlooms coming on from Veliz Organic Farm, who expect to have supply through October. This year’s mix will include Purple Cherokee, Pink Brandywine, Red Brandywine, Marvel Stripe, Chocolate Stripe, and Persimmon. Ask about straight packs or a ‘custom mix’ by pre-order.

Melon: Specialty varietals are here, like Goddess, Charentais, Piel de Sapo, Ambrosia, and Canary. Get those melon displays ready!

Pear: California Bartlett started this week. They have a rich aroma when ripe, and the classically sweet ‘pear’ taste. As always, fresh crop pears take a while to ripen up. Ready to eat Asian Pears, with their firm texture and sweet / tart flavor, have just arrived, so jump right in!

Reed Avocado: Grown in California, these huge green-skin avocados have a terrific sweet and nutty flavor. With less oil content, they are not as rich or popular as Hass; growers need them for pollination. In guacamole, you can’t even tell. They are a great value in this crazy high-priced avocado market.

* Suncrest Peach (right): Masumoto Farm’s heirloom Sun Crest, the inspiration for Epitaph for a Peach, written by Mas Masumoto, is available, and is just as juicy and fresh-flavored as ever.



Apple: Honeycrisp apples from New Zealand have a great price, but supply is winding down. Get them before they’re gone! Pink Cripps have a fantastic color and flavor, with promotable pricing.

* Blueberry (left): Strong production from the Northwest, and availability is expected to continue through July.

Broccoli: Broccoli and baby broccoli both look great, and are in strong supply.

Celery: Great availability with promotable pricing!

White NectarineKent Mango: Good numbers available on the Kent Mangoes, with sharp pricing making them taste extra sweet!

Lime: Reliable supply, and prices are holding steady.

* Nectarine (right): Good supply of yellow and white nectarine is available. Low-acid white nectarines are super sweet and refreshing!

Peach: Yellow peaches are promotable!



Ataulfo Mango: Limited and prices are going up, but we can offer Ataulfos through the end of July.


Cabbage: Red, Napa, and Savoy are all limited.

Corn: Corn is expected to gap over the weekend

Pea: Limited, but will continue to be available until late Fall when things cool off again.

Bell Pepper: Red and yellow are limited. Our exclusive grower Rob Rundle has started with limited amounts of orange bells, in the coming weeks Red Bells, both choice and L/XL, will be available in volume.


Seedless Watermelon Bin: Seedless watermelon 45ct and 69ct bins from Rundle Family Farms are limited.

Utility apple


Done for the Season

Seeded Watermelon Bin: Seeded bins from Rundle Family Farms are done

Tommy Atkins Mango

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