Tomatos are Vegetables as a Matter of Law, So Says the U.S. Supreme Court

Tomato

It's official. Tomatos are vegetables according to the Supreme Court.

The next time someone raises the age-old debate as to whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, show off your legal acuity (or nerdiness) by informing them you have it on good authority that tomatos are vegetables. No, in fact, make that great authority. Who? The U.S. Supreme Court.

More than 100 years ago, in Nix v. Hedden, Justice Horace Gray, speaking on behalf of a unanimous Supreme Court, ruled that a tomato is a vegetable as a matter of law.

The Tariff Act of 1883 declared a 10 percent duty on all vegetables entering the country, but allowed fruit to enter duty-free. The New York Customs Collector saw an opportunity to increase revenue and declared the tomato to be a vegetable.

Angry importers sued and their case reached the Supreme Court, where Justice Gray said: “[A]lthough botanists consider the tomato a fruit, tomatoes are eaten as a principal part of a meal, like squash or peas, (and all grow on vines), so it is the court’s decision that the tomato is a vegetable.”

Nix v. Hedden, 149 U.S. 304 (1893). Thanks to Lihwei Lin.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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