Learn whether pumpkins are gourds or squash—and why they’re actually a fruit and not a vegetable. Plus, learn about the health benefits.
As you spend hours in the coming weeks carving pumpkins and preparing pumpkin pies, you may start to wonder: What exactly is a pumpkin? Is it a vegetable? But it has seeds, so is pumpkin a fruit? And is a pumpkin different than a gourd, or a squash? To get to the bottom of the pumpkin mystery, we sleuthed out the facts about everyone’s favorite fall vegetable—and discovered that it’s not a vegetable at all.
What Are Pumpkins?
Pumpkins, squash, and gourds are all part of the Cucurbitaceae family, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. This large plant family includes more than 900 species, including everything from orange pumpkins, to watermelons, to cucumbers. The genus Cucurbita (aka “squash”) falls under this family, so yes, your traditional orange pumpkin is also a winter squash (not to be confused with soft-skinned summer squash, such as zucchini). Ready for the surprise? In the United States, any round, orange squash may be called a pumpkin, but the term “pumpkin” actually has no botanical meaning. Similarly, “gourd” is the conventional term used for plants in the genera Cucurbita (“squash”) and Lagenaria, so a pumpkin is also technically a gourd.
Why Pumpkins Are Fruit
Pumpkins are squash, and also gourds, but are they fruit? According to the Farmer’s Almanac, they are. And if we look at Merriam Webster’s definition of “fruit,” we can see why. A fruit is, “the usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant.” Pumpkins are edible, and if you’ve ever cut one open, you know it’s full of seeds, so the pumpkin is the fruit of the pumpkin vine.
Are All Squash and Gourds Fruit?
By the above definition, all other varieties of squash are also fruit. So, if you typically claim squash is your favorite fall vegetable, you may want to rethink your response.
Whether you call it a squash or a gourd, pumpkin is an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, and vitamin C. While one cup of mashed pumpkin contains just 49 calories, it packs 2.7 grams of dietary fiber, helping you feel full for longer. This same small serving also delivers 245 percent of daily recommended vitamin A, 19 percent of vitamin C, 16 percent of potassium, and 11 percent of magnesium, making your favorite creamy pumpkin soup rich in nutrients.
And while we now know that the seeds are what make pumpkin a fruit, we've long known how delicious they can be, especially when tossed in salty-sweet seasonings. Luckily, this irresistible snack is also a great source of nutrients. One half cup of roasted seeds provides 4 grams of dietary fiber and 17 grams of protein. Pumpkin spice lattes may be the season’s best-loved guilty pleasure, but the real deal can be just as delicious and much more nutritious.