Is a Potato a Fruit or Vegetable? | A Detailed Explanation


Cartoon Potato With a Questioning Look

I once had a heated argument with a friend who was adamant that a potato was actually a fruit. She reasoned that since you can grow another potato from a potatoOpens in a new tab., it must be a fruit. I must say that the argument sounded convincing. So, I did some research, and this is what I found out.

A potato is a vegetable because it meets none of the qualifications to be a fruit. The fact is, botanists have never considered it a fruit, mainly because it does not contain seeds. The topic has never been debated because the potato falls neatly into a specific vegetable classification.

Still don’t believe me? Well, let’s dive into the details further.

Why Potatoes Are Vegetables

The most basics definition of a vegetable is a food harvested from plants for human consumption. To be more technical, botanists classify vegetables into four main categories: tubers, roots, stems, and leaves.

The potato (a starchy vegetable that grows underground) is an example of a tuber.

What is a Tuber?

Tubers are essentially storage areas for plants. Energy and nutrients reside in this storage organ so that a plant can undergo perennationOpens in a new tab. (a process where tubers are able to thrive in the face of unfavorable conditions, such as winter, until the next growing season).

At the end of the growing season, farmers will harvest any left over potatoes. Some of these potatoes will be sent out to consumers who will consume them, while others will be placed in a cool area and stored over the winter months. When the next growing season approaches, stored potatoes will be replanted.

The newly replanted potatoes will grow new potato plants through asexual reproduction; though, potato plants can be generated through fertilization. Some people refer to this vegetative method of propagation as cloning.

Regrowth begins when sprouts grow out of a potato’s eyes (nodes). It is important to note that these sprouts usually appear after a period of dormancy. These sprouts will eventually form new potatoes.

Whole potatoes or those cut in half can be used to grow new plants and potatoes. The sprouts will create a new plant stem. From this stem, the rest of the parts of the plant will develop. Eventually, underground latter shoots will emerge to form a new potato.

Why People Mistake Potatoes for Fruit

Because potatoes can reproduce through asexual means, some people mistakenly think a potato’s eyes contain seeds; however, they do not. This false assumption that potatoes produce seeds leads people to make the erroneous conclusion that a potato is a fruit.

They draw this conclusion because they believe all fruits have seeds. At this point, they would be wrong on two fronts.

  1. Potato eyes do not contain seeds.
  2. Not all fruit has seeds. A process called parthenocarpyOpens in a new tab. makes seedless fruit possible.

Potatoes do not undergo parthenocarpy or form from a flowering plant’s ovules. This means potatoes are not fruit. That is to say; all fruit comes from a plant’s reproductive organs.

Potato plants do, however, produce fruit from the reproductive organ. This fruit should not be confused with the potato, which is a tuber. Instead, the fruit is green, looks similar to a tomato, and measures 1.5 inches in diameter.

This fruit contains approximately 300 seeds capable of growing potato plants.

Potato Plant’s Fruit & Seeds

The seeds found inside a potato plant’s fruit are generally not used to grow potato crops. Potato seeds do not carry uniform characteristics. Chromosomes are randomly distributed through the seeds. Potatoes grown from these seeds will all have unique features.

Farmers strive to grow consistent crops. They do not want a crop to produce different types of potatoes. A crop like that would be hard to market and distribute.

Therefore, farmers cannot plant seeds if they want a consistent crop. Instead, they plant tubers in order to to get uniform crops. On the other hand, seeds are seen as more valuable in breeding programs where researchers can work to create potato plants with desired features.

One of the benefits of potato seeds is that they do not contain any diseases, unlike tubers. Another is that they take up less storage space than potatoes.

Is a Potato a Vegetable or a Carbohydrate?

A potato is both a vegetable and a carbohydrate. It is a vegetable that is high in carbohydrates. The above question arises only when you take a look at vegetables through the eyes of a dietitian.

There are two types of vegetables you can choose to eat: starchy and non-starchy. Green vegetables such as broccoli, green beans, and salad are examples of non-starchy vegetables; though, other colored vegetables do fall under this designation as well.

Non-starchy vegetables are healthier for you. They are packed with minerals, fiber, and vitamins that help your body function optimally. With little or no carbohydrates, these vegetables help to keep your blood sugar at a steady rate.

Non-starchy vegetables are the ones doctors and dietitians refer to when they ask you to eat more vegetables. Eating more of this type of vegetables instead of the starchy variety will help you lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

That is not to say that starchy vegetables are detrimental to your health. Starchy foods are made up of fiber, calcium, and iron. They provide energy for your body to function.

A good depiction of a healthy meal can be observed through the diabetic plate planOpens in a new tab. (which is suitable for everyone, not just diabetics). The plan shows a plate divided into four sections: 2 sections filled with non-starchy vegetables, 1 section filled with protein, and 1 section filled with starchy foods (foods high in carbohydrates). These starchy foods include vegetables like potatoes and grains like rice.

It is important to remember that some people use the term non-starchy vegetable and carbohydrate interchangeably. This practice can lead informed people to question their vegetable knowledge.

Is a Sweet Potato a Vegetable?

Sweet potatoes are a root vegetable. Root vegetables act as storage units to store energy in the form of carbohydrates. They can reproduce through their seeds, roots, and vines.

Like potatoes, sweet potatoes use vegetative propagation. Farmers take a clipping from the vine. When the vine clipping roots, it forms a new sweet potato.

What Is the Difference Between and Potato and a Sweet Potato?

While botanically different, sweet potatoes and potatoes are both vegetables; although, they have fallen under different categories of vegetables. Sweet potatoes are part of the bindweed familyOpens in a new tab., and potatoes belong to the nightshade family. A potato is a tuber, a sweet potato is a root vegetable.

A sweet potato is a long tapered tuberous root. The skin of this vegetable can be orange, yellow, purple, and brown.

In colder climates, this vegetable grows from the plant’s roots, not the sweet potato. The sweet potato seeds are only used for breeding.

Because the sweet potato does not ripen from the plant’s ovule, it cannot be a fruit (even if it’s sweet).

Final Thoughts

In the end, I found out that I wasn’t crazy. I also don’t blame my friend for thinking that a potato is a fruit. I mean, after all, it looks like a fruit and is the non-technical “fruit” of a plant. Okay, before I confuse myself even further, I’ll just end this article. I hope it has been helpful and maybe even settled a dispute for you!

Thanks for reading.

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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