Why Watermelon Is Officially Considered A Vegetable In Oklahoma

Watermelon is a classic summertime treat. It's juicy, sweet, and refreshing on a hot day. Though it plays well as an ingredient in other dishes like fruit salads, there are some people that don't consider it a fruit at all. In fact, in 2007, the entire state of Oklahoma apparently decided that watermelon was a vegetable.

There's plenty of other edible members of the plant kingdom that are difficult to classify. The tomato is a classic example of a fruit that will never be accepted as such by mainstream society. Serve it as a savory sauce or throw it on a mixed salad, but please keep it out of fruit salads and desserts.

The botanical classifications between fruits and vegetables seem a little loose, honestly. According to Healthline, a fruit is the part of a plant that comes from the flower and often carries the plant's seeds inside. Vegetables, on the other hand, are any edible part of a plant. That includes leaves, stems, and roots along with it. Based on the botanical classifications, per Healthline, that would mean that while the two are usually thought of as separate, all fruits are technically vegetables, but not all vegetables are fruits. Healthline also notes that there are culinary definitions which are closer to the common understandings. Vegetables are savory or light. Fruits are sweet, tart, or sour. So, where does this leave the humble watermelon? Well, according to state lawmakers in Oklahoma, it lands in the vegetable category.

Watermelon is Oklahoma's state vegetable

In 2007, House Bill 1669 was introduced to the Oklahoma House of Representatives to sanction watermelon as the state's official vegetable (via Snopes). The bill was sponsored by Democratic State Rep. Joe Dorman, and Republican State Sen. Don Barrington.

Barrington has been a longtime watermelon booster. He represents the Rush Springs district constituency, where the state's annual watermelon festival is held each year (via The Focus). According to The Guardian, he even won a competition in 1994 for spitting a watermelon seed the furthest distance. It's likely that Barrington and Dorman, who also represents Rush Springs, hoped that by giving the watermelon an official designation, it would help boost its reputation (via The Wall Street Journal). As NPR reports, the strawberry was already designated as the state fruit, which may have forced the broadened classification.

Throughout the debates, legislators argued over the definitions of fruits and vegetables. Barrington claimed that while it was classically considered a fruit, the watermelon's placement in the Curcurbitaceae family makes it a relative of the cucumber, pumpkin, and squash, and is therefore a vegetable (via Snopes). It must be noted that these relatives are actually considered fruits by the botanical definition, but would be considered vegetables in a culinary sense per Healthline

The bill was passed by a 78 to 19 vote by the chamber, and, in the words of Barrington: "[The] controversy on whether watermelon is a fruit or vegetable has been officially decided by the Oklahoma legislature."