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I have seen corn described as a seed, a grain and a fruit. What are the kernels or a corncob considered to be? A grain, a seed or a fruit?

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  • $\begingroup$ The fact that you asked about corn kernels is important, I think. @March-Ho's answer is good, but the maize plant itself is a cereal grass. $\endgroup$
    – Amory
    May 31 '15 at 22:56
  • $\begingroup$ I think the answer has to depend on the context. To a farmer at harvest, it would be grain; at planting time, it would be seed. And to a cook it might well be a vegetable most of the time, but a grain when making cornbread or tortillas. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jun 1 '15 at 1:34
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The grain of corn is known as a caryopsis, which Merriam-Webster defines as:

a small one-seeded dry indehiscent fruit (as of corn or wheat) in which the fruit and seed fuse in a single grain

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This image by Encyclopedia Britannica shows that the corn seed, enclosed by the seed coat (testa) is then further surrounded by the pericarp, which consists of the layers of tissue around the fruit.

Therefore, the corn kernel can be described as any of the terms that you have mentioned.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this line here: "Corn, Zea mays, belongs to the Poaceae family, and while eaten sometimes as a vegetable and sometimes as a grain,it is actually classified by botanists as a fruit, as are tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and other squashes." $\endgroup$
    – Amory
    May 31 '15 at 22:58

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