I don’t consume a lot of fruits or vegetables that contain a high amount of fructose — scientific research data shows some proof that fructose may be a cause of many of the diseases of civilization (cancers, diabetes, etc). A berry, though, can be a nice treat, especially when combined with a hefty portion of some pastured heavy cream.
But what is a berry? When we hit the produce section of our favorite grocery or big box store, the “berry” section may not contain many berries at all, while other fruit areas may be primarily berries, although not many people associate a given fruit with the berry category.
So, what is a berry? The scientific definition boils down to sex. The berry is defined as a fleshy fruit produced by a single ovary of a plant’s reproduction system. It’s not similar to fish caviar at all (which is the egg portion of a fish’s reproductive system), but more like eating the entire ovary that produces fish eggs. Gross, right?
The key element in defining a berry botanically is that it’s a single ovary, not a clump of ovaries. Take any two fruits and examine how the plant and flowering mechanism creates that fruit, and you can define if it’s a berry or it isn’t.
Let’s look at some common fruits and see what they are. First, we have one of the most popular snacking fruits available: tasty fresh, great dried, and not even that horrible under-ripe (I like things bitter!): the blueberry. It has the word berry in it’s common description, but is it a berry?
Unfortunately, no, it isn’t. A true berry is a plant’s entire ovary, produced by a single seed. The blueberry plant, on the other hand, has an inferior ovary, which doesn’t encapsulate the seed and surround it with ovary fruit. Sorry, blueberry, but you’re actually bluefruit, though with a name like that you may not sell too well. We’ll just call you “blue” from now on — it’s done with the orangefruit, anyway.
Speaking of oranges, the orange actually is a berry. Maybe we should call it an orangeberry. The same is true with lemons and limes: both berries. They belong to a different botanical class than regular berries because of their hard, protective and oil-infused rinds, but they’re still berries: fleshy fruit produced by the single ovary of a flowering plant or tree. Nothing like mixing a little vodka with the juice of a few ovaries to make that screwdriver for brunch, right? ”I’ll take vodka and ovaries, before my omelette!” That’s a lot of sex organ talk for a Saturday morning.
What about the blackberry, my favorite fruit to consume (and exceptional bathed in warm cream) and keep around? Not a berry. THe blackberry, and it’s cousin the raspberry, is actually not one fruit per “berry”, but an aggregate of a bunch of fruits, each one coming from different small ovaries. So we’ll call those blackfruits, although that may not be the most politically correct title. Blackfruits and raspfruits, it is, though, because they’re certainly not berries.
The cranberry, on the other hand, is a berry. It’s properly titled, because it’s a fleshy fruit produced by a single ovary, grown on a vine. Cranberries and their tart juice may have some medicinal properties in the defense of ovarian cancer (the cancer of the actual mammalian ovary, not a fruit cancer). I don’t have much opinion on that, but it’s easy to remember that a cranberry is a berry when you think of cancer and cranberries and ovaries. If you think of it, at least.
Another popular finger fruit that also grows on a vine like the cranberry is the grape. The grape: mother to raisins, wine, vinegar and other popular items produced from it. The grape, again, is a true berry because it is a fleshy fruit produced from a (everyone together now) single ovary. It doesn’t matter if it’s green or red or black, they’re all berries. Grapeberry DOES sound nice, doesn’t it?
Another popular fruit that lies to its true identity is the strawberry. It’s not a berry, though, but another fruit with an inferior ovary that doesn’t become a fruit on its own. You might think the seeds of the strawberry are to blame, but you’re wrong. The strawberry part that we call seeds is actually called an achene (plural: achenes) and is more than a seed, it’s actually a fruit itself. Within that dried out portion of ovary is a tiny seed within the achene. So don’t call them strawberry seeds, call them portions of dried out ovaries; we can’t call them strawberries either, so I guess the proper term for strawberry seed is “a portion of the dried out ovary of a strawfruit.” Lovely how science can make you gag.
Of course, the list of berries goes on and on, some are true berries, some are just fruits. The most exciting berries, to me, are the ones that you’d never find in the berry section at the market. The banana is a berry, a fleshy fruit from a single ovary, encompassed in some fleshy skin, too. Try explaining that to Lou your produce guy, he’ll probably ban you. Another fun berry is the pumpkin, which is a gourd-like squash, but is still a berry (as is the squash). The cucumber “vegetable” is actually a fruit, and that fruit is a berry. Pickled ovaries for the masses!
Pretty much all of the melons are berries: the
watermelon waterberry, the cantaloupe (a combination of melon and squash and still a berry!), and others.
Speaking of cucumbers earlier, other “vegetables” we consume are also fruits, and those fruits are also berries: the tomato, for example. Redovaries, or redberries, maybe? The fruit of the potato, a cousin to the tomato, is actually poisonous, but we don’t actually eat the fruit portion, just the energy storage root of the plant (which is not a berry).
So there you have it — berries, a favorite over carb-endowed pancakes, great with heavy cream, fun eaten straight as finger food, except for melons which you need a big knife to cut before you can eat it with your fingers (the melon, not the knife). It’s strange how the produce industry doesn’t differentiate between what a berry is and isn’t, but that’s marketing for you.
How’s about joining me for a nice bowl of ovaries and cream?