So ... You Know I'd Have to Look it Up Sooner or Later ...
Banana - fruit or herb? Coconut - nut or fruit?
There has been some serious debate over these questions that I have been privy too, so I decided once and for all if I could find some actual references and definitions to lay these conundrums to rest.
Here are the dictionary definitions for fruit, vegetable, nut, and herb from dictionary.com:
1. a. The ripened ovary or ovaries of a seed-bearing plant, together with accessory parts, containing the seeds and occurring in a wide variety of forms. b. An edible, usually sweet and fleshy form of such structure. c. A part or an amount of such a plant product, served as food: fruit for dessert.
2. The fertile, often spore-bearing structure of a plant that does not bear seeds.
1. a. A plant cultivated for an edible part, such as the root of the beet, the leaf of spinach, or the flower buds of broccoli or cauliflower. b. The edible part of such a plant. c. A member of the vegetable kingdom; a plant.
1. a. An indehiscent, hard-shelled, one-loculated, one-seeded fruit, such as an acorn or hazelnut. b. A seed borne within a fruit having a hard shell, as in the peanut, almond, or walnut. c. The kernel of any of these.
1. A plant whose stem does not produce woody, persistent tissue and generally dies back at the end of each growing season.
2. Any of various often aromatic plants used especially in medicine or as seasoning.
What is the Banana?
The banana debate came up for the first time when I was reading That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles, by Dr. Joe Schwarcz, the director of McGill University's Office for Chemistry and Society. In this book, Dr. Schwarcz states that the banana is not a fruit, but a herb.
I stumbled across AskOxford.com, which may clear this question up. It states here that the banana is both a fruit and a herb. The banana is a fruit, because it contains the seeds ... classically. BUT ... since modern day bananas have been bred to be seedless (you'll recall that when you bite into a banana, you don't spit out seeds), and because there isn't true woody tissue in a banana "tree" ... it is considered a herb.
What About the Coconut?
As for the coconut question - there appears to be much more debate, but what I eventually found, is that it is considered a nut - and therefore a fruit as well, as all nuts are considered to be fruits.
So ... here's my summary.
Fruits = things with seeds.
Nuts = types of fruits that have hard shells and one seed (i.e. would spring forth only one new plant).
The rest seems a little too vague at this point for me to summarize, as I am too tired to read anything further on this subject!