Is Corn a Fruit, Vegetable, or Grain?


We all know the is-a-tomato-a-fruit debate (the answer is 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… complicated. It has to do with the way foods are categorized
and defined. We differentiate between fruits and vegetables
based on the parts of the plant we eat. If we ingest the part derived from the ovaries
or other reproductive tissue, we call it a fruit. Everything else we call a vegetable. Going strictly by that definition alone,
corn is a fruit. Hear me out, this isn’t that crazy. A single corn stalk grows several ears, which
are the female bits of the plant, and it has one pollen-producing tassel up top,
which is the male part. Before those corn cobs look anything like
what we eat, they’re essentially hard cylinders covered in hundreds of unfertilized ovules. Each of these ovules grows a single silk,
which reaches up and out of the top of the husk. If you’ve ever shucked an ear of corn,
those corn hairs are the silks. These sticky hairs dangle in the hopes of
catching a bit of pollen— if they do, the silk grows a pollen tube, enabling the male
genes to travel towards the ovule and fertilize it. That fertilized ovule will grow into a single
kernel. Once that happens 400-600 more times, you’ve
got an ear of corn. Here’s the thing though. For most fruits, you eat the fleshy bit, but
not the seeds— like snacking on an apple or a pear. [takes bite of apple] But corn is a special type of fruit
called a caryopsis. Caryopses are fruits where the flesh and seed
pods are fused tightly, so they dry out more easily. You might be more familiar with other varieties
like wheat, millet, or oats. That’s right, caryopses are also grains. So now that we know corn is both a fruit and
grain, that brings us to our final question: is corn a vegetable too? Scientifically and botanically, the answer
is no. But there’s still a case that you could
make for it. “Vegetable” has become somewhat of an
arbitrary term in modern language, due to its catchall nature. Fruit is something that you can pick up
and eat immediately. Anything that’s not a fruit is labeled a
vegetable. And we have a few preconceptions about veggies. They’re hard until they’re cooked and
they aren’t sweet or juicy. But fruits can have those same characteristics,
too. Pumpkins, peas, and peppers are
all technically fruits, but they’re treated as and called
vegetables by most people. There’s a decent, albeit philosophical,
argument to be made that we should go by the definition that most people use. But in the end, the categories you assign
to corn are up to you. It turns out there’s a kernel of truth to
them all.