Pumpkins, squashes, and gourds…oh my! While fall is often referred to most endearingly as gourd season, we also can’t deny that when it comes down to it, we’re not entirely sure what constitutes a gourd, per se. Is gourd actually a blanket category for pumpkins and squashes? Is it a totally separate classification? These were the questions we had. These are the answers we found.
While each of these fruits (yes, they’re fruits) falls into the same plant family –– the cucurbitaceae family –– things get a little fuzzy when it comes to overlaps across the categories. For example, when it comes to squashes and pumpkins, all pumpkins are technically squashes, but not all squashes are pumpkins. (Not so clear cut, is it?) To help you get a handle on each of the cucurbitaceae family members, here’s a gist of how to differentiate each from the others.
Gourds –– much like squashes –– come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors, though most share the quality of being hard-shelled and super durable. There are several varieties of gourds, including speckled swan gourds, dipper gourds, powderhorn gourds, and bottle gourds. (Miniature pumpkins often fall under the category of gourd, as well.) The biggest different between gourds and squashes is that gourds are purely decorative, for the most part, with the exception of some gourds in their immature stages, which may be eaten as vegetables much like a squash.
As opposed to decorative gourds, squashes are pretty much any members of the cucurbitaceae family that are edible, and they’re divided up into two categories: summer squash, which are usually a little more tender, and winter squash, which are the hard-skinned varieties. A few common summer squashes include zucchini, crookneck squash, and straightneck squash. Winter squashes, on the other hand, include varieties like acorn squash, butternut squash, and spaghetti squash. Unlike gourds, squashes are primarily used for culinary purposes. And while the two categories of squash are named according to seasons, the categories are actually less about seasonal availability and more about usage and shelf life (summer squash has a shorter shelf life than winter squash, thanks to the hard outer shell of the latter).
Okay, so here’s the real zinger. Ready? Are you sure? Okay. As far as pumpkins go, the truth is this: “pumpkin” doesn’t mean much of anything, really. Not botanically speaking, anyway. In fact, anything that we might classify as a pumpkin is really just a winter squash. The one notable difference between pumpkins and other winter squashes, though, is that pumpkins tend to be multifunctional –– i.e. you can eat it, but you can just as easily use it for decorative purposes like you would a gourd, too.