Is a pumpkin a fruit or vegetable?


By Robin Young | PREVIEW Columnist

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.

According to expert Joe Masabni, Ph.D., Texas A&M Agri Life Extension Service vegetable specialist in Dallas, scientifically speaking, a pumpkin is a fruit simply because anything that starts from a flower is botanically a fruit.

Usually, fruits and vegetables have been named according to how they are consumed. How people eat them versus how people see them is often different. 

“We see them as to whether we eat them as a dessert, salad or food,” Masabni said.

So, 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 fruit.

“Pumpkin is 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.”

What is the difference between a fruit and a vegetable? The difference between a fruit and a vegetable is established in how they grow. A flower requiring pollination to grow into a fruit is what makes a fruit a fruit, rather than a vegetable.

“All plants start from seedlings. Let’s take the example of lettuce as a vegetable,” Masabni said. “It makes more and more leaves, and then you harvest it and eat those leaves. If you let it go even longer, it will eventually make a flower stalk and make seeds for next year’s crop.” 

The same thing happens with a pumpkin; however, that flower becomes 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 wild pollinators. Once that flower is pollinated, that flower develops into a fruit that we consume. So, ultimately, a fruit relies on pollination of the flower, which will then grow to 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 include cucumbers, olives, tomatoes, eggplants, avocados, corn, zucchini, okra, string beans, peppers and, of course, pumpkins.

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?

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