Inquiring minds might want to know, is the orange orb a fruit or vegetable? The answer may surprise you. A pumpkin is, in fact, a fruit. Dr. Joe Masabni, Texas A&M Agri Life Extension Service vegetable specialist in Dallas, said scientifically speaking, pumpkins are a fruit simply because anything that starts from a flower is botanically a fruit. Usually, fruits and vegetables are named according to how they are consumed. How people eat them versus how people see them is often different. “We tend to identify them in relation to whether we eat them as a dessert, salad or food,” Masabni said. Consider a cucumber or tomato. People don’t typically eat those as desserts; they eat them in a salad or cooked in a meal, so they became classified as vegetables, even though they are officially fruits. “Pumpkins are a tricky one,” he said, “because some people make soups or stews from pumpkins, which is a meal, while others make pies, which is a dessert. So that can sometimes be confusing.”
The Difference Between A Fruit And A Vegetable
The difference between a fruit and a vegetable is established in how they grow. “All plants start from seedlings,” Masabni said. “Let’s take the example of lettuce as a vegetable. It makes more and more leaves, and then you harvest it and eat those leaves. However, if you let it grow longer, it will eventually make a flower stalk and seeds for next year’s crop.” A pumpkin starts the same; however, their flowers become the pumpkin we eat. “It starts with a small plant and a few leaves, and as the leaves grow and more branches develop, flowers will start to bloom on the plants,” he said. “Those flowers then need to be pollinated by bees or other pollinators. Once that flower is pollinated, that flower develops into a fruit that we consume. So ultimately, any fruit relies on pollination of the flower to then grow the part of the plant that we eat.”
What Other Vegetables Are Actually Fruits?
Although we may typically base our knowledge of fruits and vegetables from their sweet and savory tendencies or where they are placed in our meals, it seems that many of our regularly thought of vegetables are actually fruits, simply because they come from a flower. Some of those often mislabeled like pumpkins include cucumbers, olives, tomatoes, eggplants, avocadoes, corn, zucchini, okra, string beans and peppers. Now the biggest decision is how it will be consumed at your own table this holiday season. Will you consider it a vegetable in your main dish or a fruit on your dessert plate? “The fruit and vegetable debate is a fun one that hangs on the technical horticulturist/scientific view of these plants that we consume,” Masabni said. “At the end of the day, we want to inform people, but we also want them to enjoy these plants as gardeners and at the dinner table.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a pumpkin a berry?
You may be surprised to learn this, but yes, pumpkins are berries. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, a berry is defined as “a simple fleshy fruit that usually has many seeds…derived from a single ovary of an individual flower.” This includes gourds (like pumpkins), watermelons, tomatoes, and even bananas.
Why is pumpkin considered a vegetable?
Most people think of pumpkins as vegetables because they tend to be less sweet than other fruits. Though they are botanically classified as fruit, in the culinary world, pumpkins are often used in savory dishes and treated as vegetables.
What’s a fruit, then? Rather than considering the flavor or when you harvest the crop, it’s important to think of how the produce grows. Per official definitions published by the 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). While pumpkins are super stately and feel like they have all of the bells and whistles just as these other seasonal crops — at the very least, a stem — they’re just variations of the same species. Big pumpkins, mini pumpkins, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, zucchini, and gourds are all different cultivars of the same species: Cucurbita pepo, which may have been traced back to the Oaxaca region of Mexico as far back as 9,000 years ago, per Economic Botany.
In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you call pumpkins 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, Bietchman explains. Unlike other vegetables, it’s best to keep pumpkins whole and in cold, dry storage until you’re ready to cook with them at home; cutting them open and storing parts in the fridge can quickly lead to mold. “It’s always a good idea to process it down by peeling, cutting it, storing it in chunks or steaming it and purée it before storing,” Bietchman adds. Cooking pumpkin while it’s fresh is a great way to ensure you’re retaining most all of its ingredients. Pumpkins are naturally chock full of minerals like potassium and magnesium, which help to regulate your blood pressure, as well as iron sources, explains Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN. “Plus the fiber content of pumpkin is filling and helps stabilize blood sugar, which will keep your energy up throughout the day.”