There have been numerous debates among agricultural experts and nutritionists about the botanical classifications of some plants.
Such controversial plants include watermelon, tomato, and potato.
Botanically, a potato is classified as a vegetable.
Nutritionally, it is classified as starch and doesn’t make the minimum grade serving of what you’d define as a vegetable.
This is where the old age-old debate comes in especially among nutritionists.
Which begs the question,
why is potato classified as a vegetable yet it has all the characteristics of a fruit?
What is a Potato?
A potato is described as a starchy root or a vegetable.
It is a perennial plant and is a staple food in several countries in the world.
The varieties can be categorized under seven main ones: petite, fingerling, red, russet, yellow, white, purple and, blue.
The number of nutrients could vary from one type to another but the difference is in most cases minimal.
Potato and Nutrition
According to Live Science, potato is the number one vegetable crop grown in the United States.(1)
It is also the fourth most consumed food in the world according to the U.S department of agriculture.
Some of the benefits of potato include:
- Acts as an Antioxidant
Potato contains Vitamin C which delays or prevents cell damage according to research published in the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine.(5)
- Helps With Blood Pressure
Potato contains fiber which could significantly lower the level of cholesterol in the body.
The binding helps in reducing blood pressure. Potato is also a source of potassium which is a mineral that helps in lowering the blood pressure because it performs the function of a vasodilator which is to widen the blood vessels to facilitate blood flow.
Scientists at the Institute Of Food Research also found out that potatoes have a chemical known as kukoamines that are also known to regulate the blood pressure in the human body.
Vitamin C comes in handy in preventing diseases like common cold and scurvy.
The potato should be eaten fresh to have a good effect on the body. Starch consumption has been associated with reducing the likelihood of having bowel cancer and could also help with irritable bowel syndrome.
- Skin Care
Potato helps with having a smooth and clear skin. It contains phosphorous, zinc, magnesium, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B which are some of the necessary ingredients needed for healthy skin.
- Heart Health
Potatoes could be beneficial to your heart’s health. The fiber contained in the potatoes is associated with cleaning or clearing blood vessels.
The vitamins available also help in fighting free radicals in the blood which might interfere with the smoothing pumping and flow of blood.
There is a common misconception that potatoes and other members of the nightshade family trigger arthritis.
Also, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that proves this assertion to be true. A 2011 study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, found out that potatoes could actually reduce inflammation in humans.(6)
- Athletic Performance
Potatoes help in restoring electrolyte balance which is essential for athletes.
Sodium and potassium are among the essential electrolytes and are found in potatoes. Athletes lose the minerals when they sweat and a deficiency could lead to cramps.
Potato is a Vegetable
Potatoes have underground stems called tubers.
Tubers usually don’t contain seeds as much as they’re used in nutrition. It is for this reason why most people think a potato is a vegetable.
The part of the potato that we consume is part of the root plant. If you have observed, the lashes on potatoes look like miniature roots.
In the kitchen, a potato can be used to prepare salty dishes.
It can be fried or boiled and can also be taken alongside other vegetables. Also, it is not uncommon to have potato for dessert which goes to show that potatoes should be regarded as vegetables.
It should be noted that sweet potato is far from being classified as a real potato.
This is because it doesn’t fall under the same botanical grouping.
The Argument for Potato Being a Fruit
There is a good argument for this because one could say the fruit has developed from the potato plant.
Potato comes from the nightshade family which also includes eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes.
From a technical standpoint, these plants could be viewed as fruits. This is because the development comes from the ovary which is located at the flower’s base.
Potato is also known to produce green fruits but that part is not consumed by humans.
The big question is why potato is not categorized as a fruit when all evidence shows it is a flowering plant?
The potato fruits are small and green but highly poisonous.
They contain solanine which is a kind of alkaloid poison.
It can lead to abdominal pain, diarrhea, and headache if it is consumed.
The fruits contain seeds that can be used to plant new potatoes but the quality will not be up to standard.
The Difference Between a Fruit and a Vegetable
Determining the difference between a vegetable and a fruit may look like a simple endeavor.
The debate has been brought about mostly by the nightshade family of plants with potato and tomato at the center of it all.
The difference could simply be fruits have seeds and vegetables don’t. This simplistic argument can make sense if you’re a botanist.
It may not sit well with a professional chef!
Following the line of argument, it will mean that tomatoes, peppers, olives, cucumbers, and avocados are fruits too.
Most of the edible foodstuff could be categorized as fruits from a botanical perspective but the people who eat them are of a different opinion.
The definition of a vegetable could also be a subjective one depending on a person. It could be a purely scientific definition that also happens to fall under the culinary realm.
A banana has no noticeable seeds but is still classified as a fruit.
A fruit could be described as the ripened ovary of the plant. A vegetable, on the other hand, is a part of a plant not necessarily the ovary that is edible.
A vegetable doesn’t play any role in the plant’s reproductive system.
One of the reasons why vegetables are not sweet compared to fruits is because they contain less fructose. A fruit can be a vegetable but the inverse is not true.
The majority of vegetables don’t contain seeds which make them stand out when compared to fruits.
From a culinary point of view, vegetables and fruits are solely classified based on taste.
Generally, fruits are meant to be savory rather than sweet. There are several foods that could be savory in nature but still be considered as vegetables by chefs.
This includes potatoes, eggplants, and bell peppers. Grain and nuts are also classified as fruits because it is their seeds that are consumed.
An orthodox understanding may lead us to believe that fruits are supposed to be sweet and vegetables flavorful.
The real distinction comes in the botany regardless of whether you’re talking about tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes.
To conclude, what is important is knowing the real botanical difference between a fruit and a vegetable when trying to categorize the potato. Bottom line is the majority of us should be eating potatoes for:
- The Nutrition Value
- And the Health Benefits
You can get the best out of the nutritious value of the potatoes if they are eaten fresh.
A potato just like the other members of the nightshade family is primarily a vegetable. Just as we have mentioned, fruit can be a vegetable but it is not possible for a vegetable to be a fruit.
Potato is mostly consumed as French fries but nutritionists recommending baking or boiling.
Further reading: Are lentils vegetables?
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