Skip to main content

Have you ever wondered if potatoes are fruits or vegetables? We have answers

Everything you need to know about how potatoes are grown and used

Growing potatoes in a garden
nednapa / Shutterstock

From french fries to au gratin, potatoes have many delicious uses in the kitchen. They’re also a favorite plant of many gardeners, due to how easy they are to grow and how many potatoes a single plant can produce. What exactly is a potato, though? Are potatoes fruits or vegetables, and what impact does that have on how they’re grown?

Whether you’re learning about potatoes so you can add them to your garden or just looking for some fun facts about fruits and vegetables, this handy guide will explain what makes a fruit a fruit, a vegetable a vegetable, and a potato a potato.

Potatoes on the ground
1195798 / Pixabay

What is a fruit?

Fruits are a specific part of a plant that’s formed to help protect and spread the seeds of the plant. Not all plants produce fruit. Some flowers, for example, form seed heads that help to disperse the seeds. Sunflowers and dandelions are good examples of this. Not all fruits are edible, either. There are plenty of poisonous berries, including yew and holly, which are eaten by birds but are toxic to humans.

Fruit forms when the flower of a plant is pollinated. This pollination causes the seeds to form, and the flower’s ovum starts becoming a fruit. The fruit grows and ripens, and the rest of the flower falls away. The fruit can then be eaten by an animal that later spreads the seeds, or it might fall off the plant, roll a little ways away, and then rot and disperse the seeds that way instead. Some plants will still produce fruit even if the flower isn’t pollinated, which is how most seedless fruit varieties are grown.

Cupped hands holding potatoes

What is a vegetable?

Vegetables, on the other hand, are not a specific part of the plant. This is because “vegetable” is a culinary category, not a botanical one. Whether something is a vegetable depends entirely on how we eat it. This also means that all vegetables are edible, and there is no such thing as a poisonous vegetable. A vegetable is any edible part of a plant that’s typically eaten as part of a savory meal or dish, or that’s served alongside a protein. However, not every part of a plant has to be edible for one part to be considered a vegetable.

Since a vegetable can be any part of the plant, fruits can also be vegetables. Tomatoes, for example, are the fruits of the tomato plant. In fact, any edible fruit can technically be a vegetable, depending on how you use it. If you put pineapples on pizza then pineapples are a vegetable. If you enjoy apple-braised pork chops, then apples can be a vegetable as well. However, not all vegetables are fruit. Lettuce, artichokes, and carrots, for example, are the leaves, flower buds, and roots of different plants.

Potatoes dug out next to a basket
Jurga Jot / Shutterstock

What are potatoes?

So, are potatoes fruits or vegetables? Potatoes are certainly edible plants, and they’re almost exclusively used in savory dishes, with or without a protein. Additionally, potatoes do not grow from flowers or contain seeds. Although some potatoes are referred to as seed potatoes and used to grow new potato plants, this is actually a form of propagation. Seed potatoes are not actually seeds.

All of this means that potatoes are vegetables but not fruit. Potato plants do produce fruit, which look almost exactly like cherry tomatoes. However, the fruits of the potato plant are toxic and should not be eaten. You can harvest the seeds from the potato fruits to grow new potato plants, although it’s usually easier to use a seed potato.

Stack of seed potatoes on a pile of soil

What kind of vegetable is a potato?

Potatoes are root vegetables, much like carrots, turnips, and beets. Specifically, potatoes are tubers, meaning they are not the roots of the plant but are attached to them. Root vegetables are usually starchy, high in carbs and fiber, and have an earthy flavor. Since the vegetable itself is underground, root vegetables are often easier to grow in places with colder weather, since the soil insulates the edible part of the plant. Additionally, if your garden has a lot of leaf- or fruit-eating insects, then root vegetables might be a better option.

The downside to root vegetables is that they can be more difficult to harvest. They need to be dug out or pulled up, which isn’t always as easy as picking fruit off a vine or tree. Additionally, most root vegetables can only be harvested once. While the leaves or fruit of a plant can be harvested multiple times over the course of a few months, plants don’t produce multiple root vegetables. A single beet plant or carrot plant will only grow one beet or carrot, and harvesting it means harvesting the entire plant.

Tubers are something of an exception to this. Since they aren’t the roots themselves, a single potato plant will produce multiple potatoes. However, harvesting them a few at a time can still be tricky, since you’ll need to dig them up and then fill the soil back in around the plant. It’s generally easier to harvest them all at once.

Aa basket of small red and yellow potatoes.
stanbalik / Pixabay

Why does it matter?

Knowing what category potatoes fall into helps you get a better understanding of how potatoes grow and how people use them. Since you know potatoes aren’t fruit, you know the flowers of the potato plant aren’t important for growing potatoes, and that the fruit those flowers produce isn’t the part you should be eating.

On the other hand, knowing potatoes are vegetables and specifically tubers, lets you know potatoes are a savory, starchy food grown underground. Potatoes grow in hills, with soil piled over most of the stem two or three times throughout its growing season.

This method of growing wouldn’t make any sense for a fruit, or even a vegetable that wasn’t a tuber. However, the portion of the stem that’s underground will put out roots, and from those roots, tubers will grow. Even if you haven’t ever grown potatoes before, knowing that potatoes are tubers will give you some idea of how they’re grown and what part of the plant to focus your attention on.

Whether you’re growing potatoes in your garden or just eating them, knowing that potatoes are vegetables and not fruit can be a useful piece of information. Now that your curiosity has been satisfied, you can go about your business feeling just a little more confident in your understanding of fruits, vegetables, and potatoes. What you do with that information, though, is up to you! Enjoy your knowledge in the form of a bountiful harvest, delicious potato dishes, or just as a fun fact to tell other people.

Editors' Recommendations

Cayla Leonard
Cayla Leonard is a writer from North Carolina who is passionate about plants.  She enjoys reading and writing fiction and…
Wondering what to plant in October? Here are the best flowers and vegetables for autumn
Tips for picking out the best plants to start in autumn
View of a vegetable garden

Your gardening season doesn’t have to be over when the leaves and temperatures start to fall. October is a great time for planting. The mild days and cool evenings are perfect for establishing cool-season flowers and veggies. Plus, trees and shrubs need less care and attention if you plant them in fall instead of spring. Although there are some heat-loving plants that prefer to start out with a long summer, the plants on this list find their sweet spot in autumn. Keep reading to find out what to plant in October.

Cool-season flowers
Purchase cool-season flowers from your local garden center in time for October planting. Or, start them from seeds in August or September. Apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost to amend garden beds prior to planting. For container garden setups, use a high-quality outdoor potting mix.
Pansies and violas
Pansies and violas are mound-shaped plants with emerald green foliage and colorful 1- to 2-inch flowers. They love the cold. Plant them in the fall for a colorful display as long as daytime temperatures stay above freezing. In the deep cold, they pause and resume as soon as the weather turns mild. Expect pansies and violas to remain in good condition until warm weather arrives in late spring or early summer.

Read more
Wondering if peppers are fruits or vegetables? We have your answers
Everything you need to know about pepper classification
Pile of bell peppers

Whether you prefer mild bell peppers or spicy ghost peppers, most people can agree that peppers make for a colorful, flavorful addition to meals and gardens. They aren’t difficult to grow at home, and there are so many different kinds of peppers to experiment with. If you've grown them before, you might be confused about how to categorize them. They grow from flowers like fruits, but we refer to them as vegetables, and sometimes as a spice.

If you've ever been curious about how plants are categorized, then this guide is for you! We'll explain the differences and similarities between fruits, vegetables, and spices, and which one peppers actually are.

Read more
Curious when pumpkins grow? Here’s our guide to growing your own
Get your timing just right for a healthy pumpkin harvest
Medium-size pumpkin growing on a vine

Pumpkins are a fun seasonal gourd with so many uses. There are pumpkins for pies, jack-o'-lanterns, and displays. You can grow tiny pumpkins or massive pumpkins. If you’d like to start growing pumpkins in your garden but aren’t sure what to expect, then you’ve come to the right place! While there are some differences between pumpkin varieties, this general guide for pumpkin plant growth is a great place to start. Understanding when pumpkins grow and when to harvest them will ensure that you get the freshest picks for fall.

Pumpkin germination
Growing pumpkins from seed is easy and fun, but there is something to be aware of first. Different pumpkin varieties will grow at different speeds. When buying seeds, the packet should tell you how long it takes to be ready for harvest. If not, you can look up the specific variety you have. If you aren’t sure what type of pumpkin you have, though, most pumpkin varieties take between 90 and 110 days to fully mature and produce fruit.

Read more