Is Canned Pumpkin Actually Squash? Here's Why The Internet Is In Such An Uproar
Nothing heralds the start of fall more than the sudden spike in pumpkin visibility. During this time of year, canned pumpkin often flies off grocery store shelves — but each time the season rolls 'round, the same question begins circling: Is canned pumpkin actually squash? And if it is, will you have to start renaming your pumpkin pie as "pumpkin and squash pie" for fear of falsely advertising to relatives? So many questions, so little time to answer them — so let's give it a shot.
One of the most marvelous things about modern food industry is its ability to can pretty much anything. It's ingenious, time-saving and makes non-Americans like myself both confused and jealous. As a Brit, I'd never even fathomed the idea of boxed egg whites, ready-made cookie dough, or canned pumpkin. But they exist! And they're a wonderful idea for so many reasons. Not only do canned goods save a heck of a lot of time, even better, if the apocalypse should arrive, you guys would have what seems like an endless supply of non-perishable food.
But when it comes to canned pumpkin, it seems that something has got everyone a little rattled.
Every year, the internet has a little freak-out about the fact that canned pumpkin may not actually be pumpkin after all. So is your pumpkin pie a lie? Is your seasonal latte one, big, drinkable sham? Well, according to Epicurious, most canned pumpkin is actually made from something called Dickinson pumpkin, which is also sometimes known as Dickinson squash. It's much closer to a butternut squash than the Platonic ideal of "pumpkin" we all have floating around in our brains.
So why don't we make pie out of carving pumpkins? Because the large, bright orange pumpkins we break out every Halloween are actually no good for cooking with, generally being too stringy and watery to result in the creamy flavor and mouthfeel many people love. The smaller sugar pumpkin is a little tastier, but the type best for canning is apparently a closely-related cousin to the more culturally-accepted pumpkin: The pale-skinned Dickinson squash.
"So my pie is made of squash, then?" I hear you cry in anguish — and, indeed, that's why the internet is so riled up: We're not fond of finding out that something we've been calling one thing is actually another. But here's the good news: Although the Dickinson resembles a butternut squash more than a carving pumpkin in taste and texture, technically they are all part of the same family of plants, known as cucurbita. There are five species of cucurbita grown worldwide and they all produce edible fruit, variously known as squash or pumpkin.
The FDA has determined that the fruits are so closely related, it doesn't actually make much difference what manufacturers call it; therefore, consumers aren't being duped. Reads the FDA's report on the matter, "Canned 'pumpkin' has for many years been packed from field pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) or certain varieties of firm-shelled, golden-fleshed, sweet squash (Cucurbita maxima), or mixtures of these. Pumpkin and squash are sometimes mixed intentionally to obtain the consistency most acceptable to users." The report continues, "Since 1938, we have consistently advised canners that we would not initiate regulatory action solely because of their using the designation 'pumpkin' or 'canned pumpkin' on labels for articles prepared from golden-fleshed, sweet squash, or mixtures of such squash with field pumpkins. In the absence of any evidence that this designation misleads or deceives consumers we see no reason to change this policy." These days, most canned pumpkin is Cucurbita moschata, under which heading the Dickinson falls.
Additionally, Snopes reported that actually, when you talk to botanists about the technicalities surrounding these plants, the much-lauded pumpkin is actually a type of squash anyway — not the other way around. What's more, aren't any clear characteristics for defining a pumpkin by itself: As the Missouri Botanical Garden notes, "Names differ throughout the world, but in the United States, any round, orange squash used for pies or jack-o-lanterns is likely to be called a pumpkin. But the term 'pumpkin' really has no botanical meaning, as they are actually all squash."
So, it turns out that the claims are partially true: Your canned pumpkin is both pumpkin and squash, because pumpkins are squash. What it's not is the kind of pumpkin you probably think of when you think of the word "pumpkin." But as long as your pie still tastes delicious, does it really matter what you call it?