Over 300 million tons of potatoes are harvested and consumed worldwide each year. I can think of numerous recipes I can add them to, from fries to stews! Many of us view and use potatoes as vegetables. But what if I told you that potato plants produce fruits?
Potatoes are botanically known as vegetables. Because they are modified stems that grow underground, they are specifically categorized as tubers. Potato plants can produce fruits. However, potato fruits are highly toxic and are not typically grown or even less eaten.
We don’t need to look hard to find potatoes all around us. They’re versatile food crops indeed, but are they a fruit or a vegetable? Are they related to sweet potatoes? Keep reading to find the answers!
Potatoes are harvested from a non-flowering plant part so they are botanically classified as vegetables. Furthermore, since they are fleshy underground stems, potatoes belong to a sub-category of vegetables known as tubers.
Although it is not often thought about, whenever we eat our favorite fries or chips, we are actually eating vegetables—though that doesn’t change the fact that those are junk foods!
Potatoes are botanically classified as a vegetable in the Solanaceae family because they are harvested from a different plant part that’s not the flower.
Moreover, potatoes or Solanum tuberosum are specifically categorized as tubers, just like carrots.
However, what you probably didn’t know is that potato plants can produce fruit. These fruits are very different from the potatoes we eat.
They look similar to green tomatoes and are technically considered berries. Unfortunately, these berries are filled with alkaloid solanines and can leave you extremely ill if they are consumed.
Since these are highly toxic compounds that cannot be eaten, farmers concentrate on harvesting the tubers instead.
The 2 categorical differences between fruits and vegetables are 1) botanical differences and 2) culinary differences.
Fruits are botanically separate from vegetables because they contain seeds and come from flowers. Vegetables, like potatoes, are harvested from non-reproductive plant parts like roots and do not have seeds.
Botanists identify fruits and vegetables based on several key factors.
Fruits often have seeds and are what we harvest from flowers or reproductive plant parts.
Conversely, vegetables are taken from other plant parts like roots, stems, and leaves that are not used to sexually reproduce, so they do not have any seeds.
Potatoes can indeed be used to grow more plants, like what I did in my ginger experiment. However, this is called vegetative propagation, because potatoes are seedless and use asexual reproduction.
The sole purpose of potatoes is to store starch and sugars rather than reproduce. Instead, this reproductive role falls to the toxic fruit of potatoes.
Fruits are primarily known to be sweet produce used for desserts, while vegetables are added to savory dishes. Therefore, potatoes are culinarily seen as vegetables.
In the kitchen, it doesn’t matter whether the crop harvested is for reproductive or non-reproductive purposes. What matters is how they taste and affect our food.
Since potatoes are rich in carbohydrates and starch, they’re typically eaten as vegetables and cooked in main meals. Once you’re done cooking, you can even use the boiled potato water for your plants!
For more, check out this spud-tacular article: Should You Use Boiled Potato Water on Plants?
Additionally, potatoes do not naturally taste sweet. Fruits are culinarily known to have a sweet flavor, which leaves potatoes out of the picture.
There are over 3000 varieties of potatoes worldwide and they are all frequently cooked as vegetables.
You may be wondering then, what about the sweet potato? Despite their sweet name, they’re not fruits either, as you’ll find out later on.
The 3 most common plants related to potatoes are 1) mandrakes, 2) peppers, and 3) tomatoes.
While potatoes may seem quite simple, they actually have many intriguing relatives in the Solanaceae family. In fact, scientists are still trying to understand how the same gene pool contains so many organisms with such wild biological differences!
Nevertheless, here are some plants that share similar genes with potatoes.
The mandrake is part of the Solanaceae family and a relative to potatoes. Unlike potatoes, which can be eaten, all parts of the mandrake are highly toxic and cannot be consumed at all, even in small amounts.
This member of the nightshade family falls under a separate genus entirely called Mandragora.
Mandrakes are popular, not just for their appearance in Harry Potter, but for their human-shaped roots. Aside from their interesting roots, mandrakes also produce small, orange berries.
Every part of this plant can cause hallucinations and delirium when consumed. As you can imagine, this is highly unsafe, so mandrakes are not typically eaten.
Mandrake berries, also known as the devil’s apple, can technically be eaten in extremely small amounts as long as their toxic seeds are removed.
But due to how dangerous this plant is, it’s generally recommended that nothing of mandrake plants be consumed.
Peppers are closely related to peppers and share the same family. Although they are botanically labeled as fruits, most people cook them as vegetables.
According to a paper from the University of Vermont, a single red bell pepper can contain nearly 350% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C. This is significant compared to the average 30% of the daily value potatoes provide.
Since peppers are harvested from pollinated pepper flowers, they are botanically known as fruits. It can be puzzling, though, as they are frequently used as vegetables.
Go in-depth in Are Peppers Fruits or Vegetables? (What Science Says)
Although tomatoes are commonly used as a vegetable, they are considered a fruit. These fruits can easily be grafted with potato plants due to how closely related they are.
Tomatoes are another popular Solanaceae specimen that share the same genes as potatoes.
In 1893, the Supreme Court declared that tomatoes would be classified as vegetables in shipping due to how they are usually eaten and used. Despite this, tomatoes are botanically classified as a fruit.
Although they might seem like very different plants, tomatoes and potatoes are so closely related that they can be grafted together to create a “pomato” plant, a mix between tomatoes and potatoes.
These are hybrids made by grafting tomato plants to potato plants and allowing them to grow together to form a hybrid that grows tomatoes on top and potatoes on the bottom.
While pomato plants are not officially recognized plant specimens, they are fascinating nonetheless and can even be grown at home.
Sweet potatoes belong to a different plant family named Convolvulaceae and are not related to regular potatoes. Although they are sweet, they’re botanically classified as vegetables.
Despite the word potato being in its name, sweet potatoes are little more than distant relatives. They don’t even belong to the same plant family.
Sweet potatoes belong to the Convolvulaceae or morning glory family.
As the name suggests, however, these tubers taste sweet and look similar to potatoes. The only difference is that the flesh of sweet potatoes tends to be orange or golden brown rather than white.
While sweet potatoes can be used for desserts, they are still primarily cooked like vegetables—often added to savory dishes like stews or soups.
You might be tempted to say that sweet potatoes are fruits. However, since they grow underground and are harvested from a non-reproductive part of the plant, they are botanically considered to be vegetables.
Should potatoes be refrigerated?
Although potatoes can be placed in the refrigerator, it is not necessary and there are better ways of preserving potatoes. The cold temperatures will affect their nutritional values and convert the potato starch into sugar. As such, potatoes are ideally placed in a dry and dark place to store them for several months.
Are potatoes grains?
Potatoes may be high in starch but they are not considered a grain. Grains are classified as seeds harvested from grasses and consist of things like rice, corn, and wheat. Potatoes are neither seeds nor harvested from grassy plants, so they are not considered a grain product.
Potatoes are botanically and culinarily known as vegetables because they are harvested from a non-reproductive plant part and are frequently used for savory dishes. Furthermore, since they are fleshy underground plant stems, they are specifically categorized as tubers.
Mandrakes, peppers, and tomatoes are related to potatoes and come from the same plant family. Sweet potatoes, however, belong to a separate family and are not closely related to potatoes.