What Are Berries, Anyway?

nick musica
Published Aug 24, 2020. Read time: 3 mins

Bananas and blueberries and gooseberries, oh my! Have you ever wondered what defines these juicy pickings as true berries? At FruitStand, we love digging deep to learn about fruit, so we’re here to tell you all about what makes a berry a berry. Spoiler alert! You may never look at berries the same way again.

Is It A Berry? Or Is It A Berry??

Before understanding what defines a berry, it’s useful to know that there are two different ways to categorize produce: culinarily and botanically. Botanically, fruits are the edible parts of what a plant uses for reproduction. That’s why you may have heard the old adage, “fruits have seeds and vegetables don’t.” Vegetables, by this botanic definition, are all the other edible parts of plants we eat that are not fruit like lettuce leaves, celery stalks and roots like carrots and potatoes.

From a culinary perspective, our cheffie friends like to think of produce in terms of what’s sweet and what’s not so they can build delicious recipes with the right seasonal produce. Therefore, the sweet stuff is typically thought of as culinary fruit and the earthy stuff with far less sugar is thought to be a vegetable. In this same spirit, we often refer to petit, sweet, fleshy fruits as berries in a culinary sense. 

For instance, a tomato is usually considered a culinary vegetable, but botanically speaking, it’s a fruit - a berry no less! It’s similar with berries. Some, like raspberries, are culinary berries, but botanically they’re considered to be stone fruits because of the tiny stones or pits found in each round section of these complex drupes.

Fruit Families

Now let’s get to the root of it: fruits have four botanic families including citrus, pomes, drupes (aka stone fruits) and, you guessed it, berries. There are multiple ways botanists categorize fruit, sometimes even giving melons their own family (but they’re just big ol’ berries with rinds). 

Yet another fruit framework helps us get even more botanically specific with our nomenclature: simple, aggregate and composite fruits. Berries are considered simple fruits because they develop from a single ovary from a single flower.

Like the simple fruit definition, botanical berries are defined as simple fruits that stem from just one flower, with one ovary, and contain multiple seeds. So blackberries? Not berries. Neither are strawberries, raspberries or cherries. Cherries, blackberries, raspberries are botanical stone fruits, and strawberries don’t make the cut because they’re considered to be aggregate accessory fruits. Aggregate and aggregate accessory fruits are the result of fruit borne of multiple ovaries from the plant. 

For bacciferous realness, look to elderberries, blueberries, grapes, goji berries, currants, kiwifruit, avocados, persimmons, peppers and pumpkins. These true berries grow from a single flower whose ovarian wall, when ripe, turns into the fleshy part of the berry’s fruit. 

Don’t throw out your berry compote recipe just yet! While the juicy and sweet, soft fruits we look forward to in the warmer months might not be the berries we believed them to be, what matters most is that their delicious flavors will remain the same. Today we’ve learned that between the many classifications of fruit and their misleading names, it takes a trained eye to tell which fruits are berries, and which ones just look like ‘em. Now, expand your berry horizons and shout from the rooftops that bananas are berries, too!

Want to geek out over the finer points of culinary fruit versus botanical fruit? Well, we have the perfect place for you! Join the FruitStand Facebook Group to keep the conversation going with bushels of fruit fans just like you! And if you’re hungry for even more botanical information about fruit, tell us on Instagram @Fruitstandcom! We’ll be berry delighted to hear from you!


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