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Think you’re eating a berry? You might well be wrong

When it comes to fruits, the names we give to them should be fairly clear in describing what we are eating, but there are a few ‘small’ exceptions.

Fruits and berries

When is a berry not a berry? What a strange question to ask, right? A berry is surely any fruit that we’ve helpfully named [something]berry. Well, sorry to be the bearer of confusing news, but this is rather far from the truth. Let’s squash the general misunderstanding...

What fruits are real “berries”?

In the world of fruits, the term “berry” often conjures up images of small, juicy, and wholesome treats bursting with flavour. The ones that immediately spring to mind: strawberry, blueberry, raspberry. Mmmmm.

But, to understand what truly qualifies as a “berry”, we must first grasp the botanical definition. According to botanists, yes, blame them not me, a berry is a fleshy fruit produced from a single ovary that contains seeds embedded in the pulp. This succinct criterion immediately disqualifies several popular fruits from the “berry” club.

The strawberry con

Let’s start with the aforementioned strawberries, perhaps the most iconic “berry” that isn’t. While these attractive red delights – a key element of tennis’ most iconic tournament, Wimbledon – are undeniably delicious and commonly referred to as berries, they are technically aggregate fruits. Each “seed” on the outside of a strawberry is actually an individual ovary, housing a tiny seed. The true botanical berries, such as blueberries and grapes, develop from a single flower’s ovary, boasting seeds hidden within their juicy interiors. Too technical? There’s more...

Blackberries and raspberries, often enjoyed fresh or in jams, fall into the aggregate fruit category as well. Their structure comprises multiple small drupelets, each containing its seed. These drupelets collectively form what we perceive as a single fruit. Similarly, the less common mulberries and loganberries also fail the berry test due to their multiple-seeded aggregate composition.

Tomato-berry and banana-berry

So what about those fruits that rightfully claim the title of “berry.” Let’s start with the tomato, yes, the tomato. No matter how you pronounce it, and despite its culinary classification as a vegetable, a tomato is botanically a berry. Their seeds and gelatinous pulp meet all the criteria for this classification.

Bananas, with their familiar curved shape and creamy flesh, are also berries, as they develop from a single ovary. Sorry about all this.

True berries vs non-true berries

Below is a summary of the fruits that fall into the two categories so that you can pass on your newfound knowledge to the next generation. We were today years old when we found this out.

True Berries (Botanical Definition) Not True Berries (Commonly Called Berries) Other Fruits Often Confused as Berries
Tomato Strawberry Cherry
Grape Raspberry Olive
Banana Blackberry Pomegranate
Kiwi Mulberry
Blueberry Boysenberry
Currant (e.g., blackcurrants, redcurrants) Loganberry
Gooseberry Cloudberry
Elderberry Salmonberry
Cranberry Huckleberry
Pepper (Bell pepper) Chokeberry

Remember the most important thing about these revelations: just because the pesky botanist have classified some of our believed-to-be berries into a different classification, that doesn’t change a thing when it comes to our enjoyment as we much them down by the handful. And now we can do so while smugly advising those around us of the true meaning of the word.