Have you ever been hit with the factoid, “Tomatoes are actually fruits?” Well, here’s something even weirder – did you know strawberries aren’t actually berries? And for that matter, neither are raspberries or blackberries?
Why, then, do they all have “berry” in their names? The reason is similar to why we think of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and peppers as vegetables when they are actually fruits of the vine – their culinary usage. As small, sweet, colorful fruits that go great in pies and jams, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries have much the same culinary applications as true botanical berries like blueberries and cranberries.
But in order to meet the botanical definition of a berry, a fruit must have the following qualities:
- The fruit must develop from a flower with one ovary.
- The fruit must have two or more seeds.
- The fruit must have three distinct layers – an exocarp (outer skin), a mesocarp (fleshy middle), and an endocarp (inner portion holding the seeds).
If you look at strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries closely, you’ll notice that they differ substantially from the physical characteristics of true berries like blueberries. Raspberries and blackberries are actually aggregate fruits made up of lots of tiny units known as drupes. Each drupe contains a seed and comes from its own ovary within the flower.
Strawberries are even more unusual. The sweet, red flesh of the strawberry isn’t actually derived from its flower’s ovary at all. Rather, the strawberry’s flesh grows from the flower’s receptacle that holds the ovaries. What look like tiny seeds on the outside of the strawberry are actually fruits called achenes, each of which grows from an individual ovary.
By botanical definition, here are some examples of fruits that are actually berries, versus some that are not:
|Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, avocados, pumpkins, watermelons, grapes, bananas, kiwis||Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries|
So while your concept of berries may have just been turned upside-down, the good news is that there are actually plenty of fruits that are berries in both the botanical sense and the culinary sense. As mentioned above, blueberries and cranberries meet both definitions. If you’re a frequent shopper at IKEA, you’ve probably heard of lingonberries, which are also true berries. There are also lots of less commonly used berries out there like elderberries, gooseberries, goji berries, and several varieties of currants.
You may never look at strawberries the same way again! 😛