That time the Supreme Court settled the Great Tomato Debate

Watching the @PBS program Time to Play Ketchup: The Story of the Tomato, I learned something EXTRAORDINARY.

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) settled the Great Tomato Debate nearly 120 years ago in the NIX et al. v. HEDDEN decision.  Yes, SCOTUS ruled on whether tomatoes were fruits or vegetables.

One might assume that SCOTUS used science to settle the Great Tomato Debate. WRONG.  They used their gut.  Literally.

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 which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert. [source]

The famed Dinner vs. Dessert test!  Many a fruit have failed that test. [Looking at you, cucumber!]

Lest you think the SCOTUS of the late 19th century had a little too much time on their hands, NIX et al. v. HEDDEN was a really about the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883, c. 121.  This act “…impos[ed] a duty on ‘vegetables in their natural state, or in salt or brine, not specially enumerated or provided for in this act, ten per centum ad valorem;'”  With this act, importing vegetables become more expensive and the Great Tomato Debate got real.  Real costly.  One tomato importer refused to pay, claiming fruit status.  The duty collector of the port of New York disagreed, asserting tomatoes were duty-bound.  SCOTUS made the call.

As an article of food on our tables, whether baked or boiled, or forming the basis of soup, they are used as a vegetable, as well when ripe as when green. This is the principal use to which they are put. Beyond the common knowledge which we have on this subject, very little evidence is necessary, or can be produced.  [source]

Tomatoes are vegetables.




Editorial Materials & MethodsmThe author reports to ingesting a Bloody Mary during the production of this post and asserts this accounts for two servings of veggies.

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