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For other uses, see Vegetable (disambiguation).
Vegetables in a market in the Philippines

In culinary terms, a vegetable is an edible plant or its part, intended for cooking or eating raw.[1] The term "vegetable" is a non-biological one largely defined through culinary and cultural tradition. Apart from vegetables, other main types of plant food are fruits, grains and nuts. The division between vegetables and other food types is somewhat arbitrary and based on culture. For example, some people consider mushrooms to be vegetables, even though they are not biologically plants,[2][3] while others consider them a separate food category;[4] some cultures group potatoes with cereal products such as noodles or rice,[5] while most English speakers would consider them vegetables.

Vegetables are most often consumed as salads or cooked in savory or salty dishes, while culinary fruits are usually sweet and used for desserts, but it is not the universal rule.[1] Some vegetables can be consumed raw, while some, such as cassava, must be cooked to destroy natural toxins or microbes in order to be edible. A number of processed foods available on the market contain vegetable ingredients, and can be referred to as "vegetable derived" products. These products may or may not maintain the nutritional integrity of the vegetable used to produce them.


Vegetables in a supermarket in the United States

The word vegetable was first recorded in English in the early 15th century. It comes from Old French,[6] and was originally applied to all plants; the word is still used in this sense in biological contexts.[7] It derives from Medieval Latin vegetabilis "growing, flourishing" (i.e. of a plant), a semantic change from a Late Latin meaning "to be enlivening, quickening".[6] Use of the word for a person who has an uneventful life originated in 1921 while its use for someone totally lacking in mental and physical capacity dates from 1976.[6]

The meaning of "vegetable" as a "plant grown for food" was not established until the 18th century.[8] In 1767, the word was specifically used to mean a "plant cultivated for food, an edible herb or root". The year 1955 noted the first use of the shortened, slang term "veggie".[6]

As an adjective, the word vegetable is used in scientific and technical contexts with a different and much broader meaning, namely of "related to plants" in general, edible or not — as in vegetable matter, vegetable kingdom, vegetable origin, etc.[7]


A Venn diagram shows the overlap in the terminology of "vegetables" in a culinary sense and "fruits" in the botanical sense.

A vegetable may be defined as "any plant, part of which is used for food". The parts eaten include roots, tubers, bulbs, stems, leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds.[9] A secondary meaning is "the edible part of such a plant".[9]

In everyday, grocery-store, culinary language, the words "fruit" and "vegetable" are mutually exclusive; plant products that are called fruit are hardly ever classified as vegetables, and vice-versa. The word "fruit" has a precise botanical meaning (a part that developed from the ovary of a flowering plant), which is considerably different from its culinary meaning, and includes many poisonous fruits. While peaches, plums, and oranges are "fruit" in both senses, many items commonly called "vegetables" — such as eggplants, bell peppers, and tomatoes — are botanically fruits, while the cereals (grains) are both a fruit and a vegetable, as well as some spices like black pepper and chili peppers. The question of whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable found its way into the United States Supreme Court in 1893. The court ruled unanimously in Nix v. Hedden that a tomato is correctly identified as, and thus taxed as, a vegetable, for the purposes of the Tariff of 1883 on imported produce. The court did acknowledge, however, that, botanically speaking, a tomato is a fruit.[10]


Farmers' market showing vegetables for sale near the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet
Melon Yard at Heligan Cornwall, England, UK
A coriander leaf
  • Flower bud
broccoli, cauliflower, globe artichokes, capers
kale, collard greens, spinach, Eruca sativa, beet greens, bok choy, chard, choi sum, turnip greens, endive, lettuce, mustard greens, watercress, garlic chives, gai lan
  • Leaf sheaths
Brussels sprouts
Kohlrabi and galangal
celery, rhubarb, cardoon, Chinese celery
asparagus, bamboo shoots
potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, taro, and yams
soybean, mung beans, urad, and alfalfa
carrots, parsnips, beets, radishes, rutabagas, turnips, and burdocks
onions, shallots, garlic
  • Fruits in the botanical sense, but often eaten as savoury food, similar to vegetables
tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, zucchinis, pumpkins, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, chayote, okra, breadfruit, avocado, pods, seeds such as corn, green beans and snow peas.


South Asian style stir fry ipomoea aquatica in chili and sambal
Vegetables (and some fruit) for sale on a street in Guntur, India

Vegetables are eaten in a variety of ways, as part of main meals and as snacks. The nutritional content of vegetables varies considerably, though generally they contain little protein or fat,[11][12] and varying proportions of vitamins such as Vitamin A, Vitamin K and Vitamin B6, provitamins, dietary minerals and carbohydrates. Vegetables contain a great variety of other phytochemicals, some of which have been claimed to have antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anticarcinogenic properties.[13][14] Some vegetables also contain fiber, important for gastrointestinal function. Vegetables contain important nutrients necessary for healthy hair and skin as well. A person who refrains from dairy and meat products, and eats only plants (including vegetables) is known as a vegan.

However, vegetables often also contain toxins and antinutrients such as α-solanine, α-chaconine,[15] enzyme inhibitors (of cholinesterase, protease, amylase, etc.), cyanide and cyanide precursors, oxalic acid, and more.[16] Depending on the concentration, such compounds may reduce the edibility, nutritional value, and health benefits of dietary vegetables. Cooking and/or other processing may be necessary to eliminate or reduce them.

Diets containing recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables may help lower the risk of heart diseases[citation needed] and type 2 diabetes.[citation needed] These diets may also protect against some cancers[citation needed] and decrease bone loss.[citation needed] The potassium provided by both fruits and vegetables may help prevent the formation of kidney stones.[citation needed]

Dietary recommendations[edit]

The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming 3 to 5 servings of vegetables daily.[17] This recommendation can vary based on age and gender, and is determined based upon standard portion sizes typically consumed, as well as general nutritional content.[18] For most vegetables, one serving is equal to 1/2 cup and can be eaten raw or cooked. For leafy greens, such as lettuce and spinach, a single serving is typically 1 cup. Serving sizes for vegetable-derived products have not been definitively determined, but usually follow the 1/2 cup standard. Examples of vegetable-derived products subject to this standard are ketchup, pizza sauce, and tomato paste. Currently, there is no specific standard for measuring a vegetable serving in regards to its nutrient content, since different vegetables contain a wide variety of nutrients.

International dietary guidelines are similar to the ones established by the USDA. Japan, for example, recommends the consumption of 5 to 6 servings of vegetables daily.[19] French dietary guidelines follow similar guidelines and set the daily goal at 5 servings.[20]

Color pigments[edit]

The green color of leaf vegetables is due to the presence of the green pigment chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is affected by the pH, and it changes to olive green in acid conditions, and to bright green in alkaline conditions. Some of the acids are released in steam during cooking, particularly if cooked without a cover.

The yellow/orange colors of fruits and vegetables are due to the presence of carotenoids, which are also affected by normal cooking processes or changes in pH.

The red/blue coloring of some fruits and vegetables (e.g., blackberries and red cabbage) are due to anthocyanins, which are sensitive to changes in pH. When the pH is neutral, the pigments are purple, when acidic, red, and when alkaline, blue. These pigments are quite water-soluble. This property can be used in rudimentary testing of pH.

Commercial cultivation[edit]

Vegetable Shop in India

Method of vegetable production[edit]

Most vegetables are produced using traditional farming practices. However, the yield of vegetables from organic farming is growing.

Origin countries[edit]

Of all the world's nations, China is the leading cultivator of vegetables, with top productions in potato, onions, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes and broccoli.

Domestic cultivation[edit]

Amateur vegetable growing has a long history dating back to the establishment of agriculture and is a substantial business in itself, with one major online UK seed supplier currently offering well over 1200 cultivars of seeds, plants and potato tubers. They report that sale of vegetable seeds now outstrips that of flower seeds.

Plants are usually divided into the following categories:-

Vegetables on display at Hampton Court Flower Show

Each group has its own cultivation needs, but the overall requirements for the vast majority of vegetable plants are:

  • deep, rich soil with a neutral or slightly alkaline composition
  • plenty of sunshine
  • plenty of water
  • regular feeding
  • regular weeding
  • protection against pests such as slugs, aphids and caterpillars[22]

The substantial literature and other media on the subject advise deep digging, annual top dressing with manure or home-made compost, and crop rotation. Other issues are also discussed at length, including:-

Increasingly, small plants (plug plants) are offered for sale in spring and summer.


For food safety, the CDC recommends proper fruit handling and preparation to reduce the risk of food contamination and foodborne illness. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be carefully selected. At the store, they should not be damaged or bruised and pre-cut pieces should be refrigerated or surrounded by ice. All fruits and vegetables should be rinsed before eating. This recommendation also applies to produce with rinds or skins that are not eaten. It should be done just before preparing or eating to avoid premature spoilage. Fruits and vegetables should be kept separate from raw foods like meat, poultry, and seafood, as well as any cooking utensils or surfaces that may have come into contact with them (e.g. cutting boards). Fruits and vegetables, if they are not going to be cooked, should be thrown away if they have touched raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. All cut, peeled, or cooked fruits and vegetables should be refrigerated within 2 hours. After a certain time, harmful bacteria may grow on them and increase the risk of foodborne illness.[24]



Proper post-harvest storage aimed at extending and ensuring shelf life is best effected by efficient cold chain application. All vegetables benefit from proper post harvest care.[25]

Many root and non-root vegetables that grow underground can be stored through winter in a root cellar or other similarly cool, dark, and dry place to prevent the growth of mold, greening and sprouting. Care should be taken in understanding the properties and vulnerabilities of the particular roots to be stored. These vegetables can last through to early spring and be nearly as nutritious as when fresh.

During storage, leafy vegetables lose moisture, and the vitamin C in them degrades rapidly. They should be stored for as short a time as possible in a cool place, in a sealed container or a plastic bag.


There is a series of ISO standards regarding fruits and vegetables.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Vainio, Harri and Bianchini, Franca (2003). Fruits And Vegetables. IARC. p. 2. ISBN 9283230086. 
  2. ^ "What foods are in the vegetable group?". United States Department of Agriculture. 2011-05-31. Retrieved 2011-06-02. Mushrooms" classified under "Other vegetables 
  3. ^ "Suggestions – Vegetables". Retrieved 2009-06-24. 
  4. ^ "Alternative Crops and Plants: Vegetables and Mushrooms". United States Department of Agriculture. 2009-06-08. Retrieved 2009-06-24. 
  5. ^ von Polenz, Peter (1991). "Deutsche Sprachgeschichte vom Spätmittelalter bis zur Gegenwart". p. 430. 
  6. ^ a b c d Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-11-25.
  7. ^ a b Swedenborg, Emanuel (2003). Swedenborg Concordance 1888. Kessinger Publishing. p. 502. ISBN 0-7661-3728-7.
  8. ^ Ayto, John (1993). Dictionary of Word Origins. New York: Arcade Publishing. ISBN 1-55970-214-1. OCLC 33022699. 
  9. ^ a b "Vegetable". Retrieved 2015-03-03. 
  10. ^ NIX v. HEDDEN, 149 U.S. 304 (1893).
  11. ^ Woodruff, Sandra L. (1995). Secrets of Fat-Free Cooking : Over 150 Fat-Free and Low-Fat Recipes from Breakfast to Dinner-Appetizers to Desserts. Garden City Park, N.Y: Avery Publishing Group. ISBN 0-89529-668-3. OCLC 33142807. 
  12. ^ Whitaker, Julian M. (2001). Reversing Diabetes. New York: Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-67658-6. OCLC 45058465. 
  13. ^ Gruda, N (2005). "Impact of Environmental Factors on Product Quality of Greenhouse Vegetables for Fresh Consumption". Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences 24 (3): 227–247. doi:10.1080/07352680591008628. 
  14. ^ Steinmetz KA, Potter JD (1996). "Vegetables, fruit, and cancer prevention: a review". J Am Diet Assoc 96 (10): 1027–39. doi:10.1016/S0002-8223(96)00273-8. PMID 8841165. 
  15. ^ Finotti, Enrico; Bertone, Aldo; Vivanti, Vittorio (2006). "Balance between nutrients and anti-nutrients in nine Italian potato cultivars". Food Chemistry 99 (4): 698. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2005.08.046. 
  16. ^ Bad Bug Bock > BBB – Clostridium botulinum.
  17. ^ Fabulous fruits... versatile vegetables. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2012-02-17.
  18. ^ "What is a Serving of Fruit or a Vegetable?". 2011-09-09. Retrieved 2013-07-21. 
  19. ^ The Japanese Diet.
  20. ^ The French Dietary Guide.
  21. ^ Hessayon, Dr. D. G. (1997). The vegetable & herb expert. United Kingdom: Expert. p. 144. ISBN 0903505460. 
  22. ^ Larkcom, Joy (2002). Grow your own vegetables. United Kingdom: Frances Lincoln. p. 384. ISBN 071121963X. 
  23. ^ Harrison, John (2009). The essential allotment guide. United Kingdom: Right Way. p. 256. ISBN 0716022125. 
  24. ^ Food Safety Basics for Fruits and Vegetables at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  25. ^ Kohli, Pawanexh (2008) "Why Cold Chain for Vegetables" in Fruits and Vegetables Post-Harvest Care: The Basics. Crosstree Techno-visors
  26. ^ "67.080: Fruits. Vegetables". International Organization for Standardization. Retrieved 2009-04-23. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]