I should have seen that one coming! Thanks, reader Clare. Grains are the seeds of grasses. Vegetables are…well, there isn’t a strict definition of what vegetables are. A vegetable can be any edible part of a plant that’s not a) the seed or b) the ripened ovary. The ripened ovaries of seed-bearing plants are what are known in scientific terms as “fruits”, if you follow me. Thus you can see why tomatoes and squash are classified as fruits and not a vegetables: they have seeds.
So then why isn’t corn a fruit? Aren’t the individual kernels the seeds? Alright smarty pants, yes, they are. But only when they’re dried. Which means that when an ear of corn is dried out it’s technically a fruit, with the individual kernels being the seeds and the cob being the ovary. However prior to that point, i.e. when the kernels are in their raw or “milky” stage, they aren’t seeds, they’re a non-seed edible structure, which is a vegetable.
So then if the kernels become the seeds, does’t that mean corn really is a grain after all? OK clever dick, yes, it does. Given that corn’s wild ancestor, teosinte, is a grass, that makes corn a grain in the eyes of many people.
So then why do I insist on calling corn a vegetable? In part because the kernels intuitively seem more like “edible structures” to me than seeds. But more concretely, because of corn’s nutritional profile. Corn provides vitamins A, C and E, but lacks most of the B vitamins — typical of a vegetable. Corn is also low in the proteins that true grains provide, especially lysine and tryptophan. So to me, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck then I’m on the side of the vegetarians…I mean, the vegetable people.
Of course there are those who insist that corn is all three things: a fruit AND a vegetable AND a grain. But those folks are just plain nuts. I mean…crazy.