We all know the is-a-tomato-a-fruit debate (correct answer: yes, but you still shouldn’t put it in a fruit salad). Now we’d like to bring you a whole new botanical question you never knew you had: Is corn a fruit or a vegetable—or is it a grain?
The answer is more technical than you might think, and to fully understand it you’ll need a little primer on corn biology.
We differentiate between fruits and vegetables depending on which bits of the plant we eat. If we eat the part derived from the ovaries or other reproductive tissue, we call it a fruit, explains Marvin Pritts, a horticulture researcher and professor at Cornell University. Everything else we call a vegetable. “Corn is a seed derived from the flower/ovary of the corn plant,” he says, “so is technically a fruit.”
More specifically, corn is a caryopsis, which is a type of fruit in which the pericarp (that’s the fleshy bit, like the part of a peach that you eat) and seed coat are fused tightly. This means they don’t have a substantial fleshy layer, helping them dry out well. You might know caryopses better by their common name: grains.
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