Fall is a prime season. The air crisps, leaves turn from green to gold, PSLs are everywhere, and you finally get to partake in all of your favorite autumnal activities. Perhaps you’re carving your annual jack-o-lantern or wandering through the pumpkin patch taking your time to pick the perfect gourd, and you find yourself wondering, “Is pumpkin a fruit?”
Although you may think of pumpkins as a vegetable, these squashes, both the decorative stars of the season as well as the best ingredient in a fall-flavored, best-ever pumpkin pie, are indeed fruits. Mind blown, right?
First it was tomatoes. Then it was avocados. And now, the trusty pumpkin, along with all other squashes, should be considered fruits rather than vegetables.
If your know-it-all-friend has already informed you of this fact, we’re sorry to tell you that she’s right. Botanists don’t categorize fruits and vegetables by whether they taste sweet or savory. It all about the anatomy.
Well then, what is a fruit?
Rather than considering the flavor or when you eat the crop, it’s important to think of how the produce grows. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Fruit, in its strict botanical sense, [is] the fleshy or dry ripened ovary of a plant, enclosing the seed or seeds.” They also tend to grow from the flowers of the plants. That definition includes produce popularly thought of as fruit — including apples, bananas, and berries — but it also applies to beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, olives, avocados, and yes, pumpkin.
Carve a jack-o’-lantern and you’ll encounter the stringy orange pulp and many seeds inside. Those seeds — also called pepitas — provide all the proof you need. In fact, New Hampshire officially named pumpkin its state fruit in 2006!
What is a vegetable?
If you’re wondering what really counts as a vegetable then, just think of all the other edible parts of plants. That can include the leaves (lettuce), stem (asparagus), roots (carrots), tubers (potatoes), bulbs (onions), or flowers (artichokes).
When it comes to pumpkin, the word itself has no botanical meaning, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. The round, orange things we call pumpkins technically qualify squash since they’re part of the Cucurbitaceae family, which contains 700 different species.
Ready for one more mind-blowing fact? The big pumpkins, mini pumpkins, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, zucchini, and ornamental gourds are all different cultivars of the same species: Cucurbita pepo, which originated in Mexico more than 10,000 years ago.
Now that you’re up-to-date on pumpkin botany, know that it doesn’t matter whether you call it a fruit, vegetable, squash, or gourd. Eating more pumpkin, whether you’re munching on fiber-packed pumpkin seeds, a hearty fall dinner or a cozy soup, is definitely the right move.
“Pumpkin is loaded with blood pressure-regulating minerals potassium and magnesium as well as iron,” says Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Nutrition Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute. “Plus the fiber content of pumpkin is filling and helps stabilize blood sugar, which will keep your energy up throughout the day.”
Bring on the pumpkin soup!