Pickles are loved by many, despite being an acquired taste to others. They are most commonly found as a topping for burgers but are absolutely delicious when eaten on their own. Pickles also come in many varying flavors and aren’t at all that difficult to make on your own at home. With that being said, is a pickle a fruit or a vegetable?

stainless steel fork on green labeled can

What is a pickle?

By most definitions, a pickle is a cucumber that has been through the process of pickling. This pickled cucumber is then referred to as a pickle after the process has been completed. Cucumbers are by far the most common item of food to be pickled but they are not the only item that commonly undergoes this process.

It is very common for other foods such as onions, eggs, herring, and kimchi to be pickled although they are still referred to as what you started with. The only exception to this is a cucumber which is referred to as a “pickle” after the process.

Without discussing the pickling process too much, more on that in a moment, pickles are cucumbers that have been left in an airtight container full of different herbs and spices as well as vinegar. The cucumber is submerged in this and left for a while in order to absorb all of the flavors captured inside the container. It is an excellent way to preserve food as well as give it a whole new flavor. Pickled cucumbers are the most common as the flavor of cucumber is not very bold, so they are easy to manipulate into other flavors.

What is the pickling process?

In its simplest form, pickling is the method of preserving or extending the shelf life of food by either anaerobic fermentation or submersion in vinegar. Most items after this process are prefaced with the word “pickled” however, cucumbers especially are now referred to as pickles. This process affects both the food’s texture and flavor.

Many food items can be pickled but the most popular ones are:

  • Pickled cucumber
  • Pickled ginger
  • Pickled herring
  • Pickled egg
  • Pickled onion

Pickled foods are arguably an acquired taste as they have very intense and bold flavors. However, for foods such as onions, some people prefer them in their pickled form as the resulting flavor is enhanced by the onion’s naturally strong taste.

What is anaerobic fermentation?

Anaerobic fermentation is a process of encouraging good bacteria to grow which helps make a food item less vulnerable to bad bacterias that cause food to spoil. The term ‘anaerobic’ means that no oxygen is required for this process to take place, hence why the process is carried out in an airtight container and the food item is fully immersed in vinegar or brine.

What is a fruit?

High-quality photo of a banana on a white background

Fruit is used as a categorical term to describe the fleshy or dry ripened ovary of a flowering plant that encloses its seed. This means that in a botanical sense, fruits have their seeds inside them, yet they are restricted to only being ripened ovaries that are either sweet or pulpy. The term ‘botanical’ is incredibly scientific and is used as a way of categorization, it differs a lot from the culinary sense of the definition, which is a lot more common to people.

Some examples of botanical fruits may surprise you. Here are some examples:

  • Apricots
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Bean pods
  • Corn grains
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Acorns
  • Almonds

As you can see from the list, the term ‘fruit’ is a lot different than what you would normally describe it as. While you may consider acorns and almonds to be nuts, they are technically fruits. From this, you can see why some people question the definition of a lot of foods as the terms are all quite relative. This will be spoken about shortly, but what you use to define items such as acorns and almonds is actually the culinary definition instead of the botanical one. While using a botanical definition, you can see that your fruit salad may not be entirely full of fruit.

What is a vegetable?

The term vegetable refers to the fresh and edible parts of certain herbaceous plants such as roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and seeds. While many fruits are eaten raw, it is common that vegetables undergo a more detailed preparation before being consumed, such as being skinned or cooked. In comparison to fruits, vegetables have more tame flavors that focus on being earthy and deep instead of being sweet and light, as fruits are. Vegetables are a more savory item and are commonly paired with meats whereas it is rare for fruits to do the same.

While fruit is a botanical term with a set definition, the term vegetable is a very loose and general term that includes most things that are considered edible and come from plants.

An example of some vegetables are:

  • Carrot
  • Potato
  • Onion
  • Broccoli
  • Lettuce

Some items excluded from the list, namely tomatoes, may surprise you. However, botanically speaking they are not a vegetable.

What is a berry?

Berry is more of a sub-category when compared to the likes of fruits and vegetables. This is because berries are fruits but without the stone or pit being included. Once again, this is the botanical perspective of it which is a lot more strict in how things are defined. For instance, eggplants and avocados are considered berries whereas strawberries are not, despite being named as such.

Other berries include:

  • Cranberries
  • Coffee
  • Bananas
  • tomatoes

If you picture the two categories “fruit” and “berry” as a Venn diagram then it is much easier to understand. Some fruits can be both a fruit and a berry, while others can only be considered a fruit.

Botanical Vs Culinary

I have spoken a fair bit about the categories falling under the definition of botanical or culinary, but what do I actually mean?

Botanical refers to the scientific study of botany, which is plants. So the categorization has to be much stricter in a lab setting. Botanically speaking, many things are considered to be in a different category to what we would normally consider, and this is because they fit certain criteria despite other attributes proving the opposite. An example of this is the tomato. It does not have a fruity flavor, and by all means, should be a vegetable but because the seeds are found inside of it, it is classed as a fruit by a botanical definition.

The other side of this argument is a culinary definition. A culinary definition is from a cooking perspective and is much more commonly known. So with the example of the tomato, despite fitting the definition of being a fruit, its flavor and use is much more in line with being a vegetable, so it is categorized as such from a culinary perspective.

What is the difference?

The main difference between the two is how they are sorted. Botanically they are sorted using very strict criteria where if they fit the bill, they are labeled. However, a culinary definition is all to do with how they are used in cooking. If the flavors are sweeter and pair better in a sweet dish then they are likely to be labeled as fruits. Whereas if the flavor is a lot deeper and can be used with meats and other aromatic vegetables then they are expected to be labeled as such.

What catagory does a pickle belong in?

To get a correct and accurate answer to this, we must look at what a pickle is. It is typically a small pickled cucumber, and cucumbers have their seeds on the inside which botanically speaking make them fruit. If you are strictly looking for a scientific answer then yes, they are fruit. However, some people argue that they should not be in a category at all due to having other main ingredients such as vinegar and salt. Other people would argue that culinarily speaking, they are vegetables due to their flavor profile and how they are used in cooking.

To play devil’s advocate and add unnecessary chaos to the whole ordeal, pickles can also be looked at as a berry because they are fruits but without pits inside of them. The answer to this question really changes depending on what parameters you set when asking it, and also how strict you intend to be.

pickles in jar

How to make pickles

Perhaps reading this far has got you wanting to try pickles for the first time, or maybe you’re craving one as it has been ages. Despite your reasoning, you will be happy to know that they are ridiculously easy to make on your own at home. The recipe can change depending on how you want to flavor your pickles, the following recipe will be for dill pickles.

As for ingredients, you will need:

  • Cucumbers
  • Garlic cloves
  • Mustard seeds
  • Peppercorns
  • Dill sprigs
  • Water
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Cane sugar
  • Sea salt

You may notice that I did not include any measurements, and that is very intentional. The beautiful thing about pickling is that everything is up to you. If you want to find the perfect pickle, it won’t be on any websites. It will be found by you after many attempts at altering the seasoning until you get it just right to match your exact preferences.

Firstly you will need to quarter your cucumbers lengthways or slice them horizontally into small chip-sized pieces. I prefer the longer quarters but it is completely up to you. If you are using small cucumbers then you can just use a few handfuls of them without cutting them up.

After you have prepared your cucumbers, you will want to place them in a mason jar that has an airtight lid, or any other container with a similar lid. Now it is time to add your aromatics such as garlic, dill sprigs, mustard seeds, and peppercorns. As mentioned, play around with it. Find what works best for you.

Now it is time to add equal parts of water and distilled white vinegar to your container and fully submerge everything. Once everything is immersed in liquid, add your salt and sugar. A couple of teaspoons of each will be enough.

After this, it is time to close the container and let the pickling process commence. This consists of leaving the container in a cupboard or fridge for a week without opening it. The longer you leave it after this, the stronger the flavor will get.

So Which Is It?

to conclude this confusing mess of a question; the answer is entirely dependant on what parameters you are setting. If you are speaking entirely scientifically then a pickle can be looked at as a berry due to its lack of a pit. However, if you want to look at it from a culinary perspective, it can be classed as a vegetable. Whatever you class it as only one thing is for certain, they’re delicious.