What is the difference between these words for vegetables in Spanish?

legumbre, vegetal, verdura, hortaliza.

My understanding is this:

Hortaliza= all vegetables.

Verdura= salad vegetables.

Legumbre= legume in English, so that's peas, lentils and beans. But I've heard Spaniards refer to 'frutas y verduras' in the same way we say 'fruit and vegetables' in English.

Vegetal=plant but I've seen 'bocadillo vegetal' on a menu , but 'plant sandwich' sounds odd in English, so I wasn't sure if vegetal meant salad, or things like carrots!

3 Answers 3


legumbre: is actually a technical term: any member of the "legumes". That includes peas, beans, etc. In Spanish it is not used for peanuts or soy, although they are still "legumes", because the way they are eaten is different from the traditional legumbres.

vegetal: is again a technical term: anything from the "plant" kingdom. It is not used for clasification. However, it is sometimes used as an adjective to some prepared food that contains (not exclusively) more "verduras" or "hortalizas" than expected, such as "bocadillo vegetal", "tortilla vegetal", "lasaña vegetal"...

hortaliza: any food coming from the huerta, that is the "kitchen garden" or vegetable garden. That will include some fruits, such as tomatos or peppers, as well as roots, potatos, etc, but it will not include tree fruits. Some items will be included or not depending on the speaker: melons, pumpkins, berries...

verdura (you didn't ask, but anyway): any hortaliza_ that is more or less green (verde), that is a leaf. Some people may also include items of difficult classifications, but similar uses, such as coliflowers, asparagus, soy shoots, or even onions.

fruta: any fruit except if it is seen as a hortaliza. Also some non-fruits that are consumed as if they were real fruits, such as strawberries or figs.

  • Good answer (+1), but vegetal is sometimes used for food, mainly as an adjective, such as in OP's example bocadillo vegetal (or sandwich vegetal).
    – Gorpik
    Jul 23, 2014 at 10:06
  • @Gorpik: True. I'll add it to the text.
    – rodrigo
    Jul 23, 2014 at 10:07
  • Please note that "vegetal" sometimes means more "verduras" or "hortalizas", as you said, but sometimes refer to having no food or fish at all, so conveys the meaning of exclusivity.
    – Envite
    Jul 23, 2014 at 15:42
  • Nice answer! I hadn't realized how confusing this words can seem to foreigners :P Jul 28, 2014 at 12:29

Your question is a bit open, and some things are not necessarily strict.

The usage of vegetal as an adjective in "bocadillo vegetal" implies vegetarian or vegan.

Veggie sandwich would be the appropriate English term.

  • Be careful with "bocadillo vegetal" as it might not have meet, but may have fish like tuna. Usually it's not suitable for vegetarians.
    – JoulSauron
    Jul 22, 2014 at 11:32
  • Often, "bocadillo vegetal" is a "bocadillo" which has lettuce and tomato, or other vegetables. It can have tuna as @JoulSauron says, but also chicken or other meats. Just google for "vegetal de pollo" and you'll see. I've never understood it, by the way.
    – MikMik
    Jul 23, 2014 at 9:05
Hortaliza= all vegetables.

Agree :)

Verdura= salad vegetables.

Well... normally, we use verdura to talk about the green parts of the vegetables (stem and leaves).

Legumbre= legume in English, so that's peas, lentils and beans.

Right. But... Sometimes you can hear the expression 'frutas y verduras' covering also legume because of the typical "Frutas y verduras" shops, that sell legume too. I know, it's a bit tricky :P

And "vegetal" is used -when talking about food- to indicate that it has no meat, as @Diego Mijelshon wrote.

Hope it helps a bit!

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