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It All Started With a Tax

You may be aware that botanically speaking the tomato is a fruit. You may also know that it was a decision made by the Supreme Court in 1893 that forever labeled the tomato a vegetable. Did you know the reason the case went to this nation’s highest court was based on taxes?

In 1883 the United States established a 10% tax on imported vegetables, but not fruits. For tomato importer John Nix this seemed to be business as usual. However, he happened upon the botanical definition for fruit and realized he was importing a fruit but being taxed for a vegetable. Unable to get justice for this costly mislabeling, he sued the New York tax collector, Edward Hedden, and the case made it’s way to the Supreme Court.

The opinion of the court on the matter of Nix v. Hedden was delivered by Justice Gray who explained their decision by expressing the following statement, “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.” (from court records at

So, remember, at your next dinner party as you serve your capelinni alla puttanesca and one of your guests asks, “Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable?” You can confidently answer, “Legally, it is a vegetable, and it all started with a tax.”