Are Pumpkins a Fruit or a Vegetable? – From Every Perspective

Pumpkins Botanical Definition

The botanical definition of a fruit is the seed carrying structure of a plant. The stems, leaves, roots and everything else of the plant can be considered a vegetable.

A pumpkin is further classified botanically as a pepo. A pepo is a type of berry.

In botanical terms produce like strawberries and raspberries that are traditionally thought of as berries are not berries. Produce including tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, bananas, and pumpkins are categorized as berries.

Pumpkins Culinary Definition

A piece of produce is defined as a vegetable or fruit in culinary terms based on the texture, taste, and when the dish is served.

Vegetables have a more mild and savory taste and generally a tougher texture. Vegetables are served as a side dish or part of a main course.

Fruits have a tart or sweet flavor and generally a softer texture. Fruits are served typically as a snack or dessert.

Because a pumpkin is typically served as a dessert it falls under the fruit category in culinary lingo.

The Supreme Court’s Thoughts on Fruits vs Vegetables

In 1893 there was a case that was brought to the Supreme Court, Nix vs. Hedden.

In this case a businessman was claiming that tomatoes were fruit and since they were fruit he should not have to pay the import tax on them. At the time there was a 10% tax on imported vegetables and no tax on imported fruits.

The court called other merchants of fruits and vegetables to testify on what terms they commonly used when referring to produce in conversation with customers and other vendors.

Both sides, the plaintiff and defendant, read definitions of various produce items from the dictionary.

In the end the Supreme Court decided that tomatoes were vegetables. They recognized that tomatoes were botanically fruits but because tomatoes were most commonly referred to as vegetables and were used in dining like other vegetables that they were a vegetable.

The court also referred to a previous case from 1889 in which a merchant tried to avoid an import tax on beans by calling them seeds.

So, would the Supreme Court call a pumpkin a fruit or vegetable? It’s used as a dessert mostly when it is used in cooking. It is botanically defined as a fruit. But, it definitely isn’t commonly referred to as a vegetable or fruit. I think the jury is still out on this.

Are Pumpkins a Fruit or Vegetable in Horticulture?

In horticulture, plants are categorized as a fruit or vegetable based on their growing habits.

A vegetable in horticulture is a herbaceous plant that grows as an annual. A fruit is a woody perennial. A herbaceous plant has green pliable growth and a woody plant is tougher.

Pumpkin plants are annuals that grow back and die every year. Their vines are herbaceous and green. An example of a fruit in horticulture is a blueberry bush or any fruit tree. They are perennials that grow back every year and have a woody texture.

A pumpkin is considered a vegetable horticulturally speaking.

What’s The Dictionary Say?

The following definitions are from Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Vegetable – a usually herbaceous plant (such as the cabbage, bean, or potato) grown for an edible part that is usually eaten as part of a meal

Fruit – the usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant, especially one having a sweet pulp associated with the seed

Pumpkin – a fruit of any of various cultivars of herbaceous plants (Cucurbita pepo, C. maxima, C. moschata, and C. mixta synonym C. argyrosperma) of the gourd family that is typically round and orange but may be another color or shape, that has a hard usually smooth skin with shallow longitudinal grooves, and that is grown for ornamental use or for its fibrous pale flesh used especially in baking or as feed for livestock

A pumpkin fits both the definitions of a fruit and a vegetable but in its own definition is defined as a fruit. The dictionary declares pumpkin a fruit!

Cultural Definition

This one I’m not 100% sure on but I think that as a collective culture we would lean towards pumpkins being a vegetable more than a fruit. If we asked 100 random people whether pumpkins were a fruit or a vegetable I think that vegetable would get more tallies.

You might also be interested in “How Do Pumpkins Grow?“.

Interesting Facts About Pumpkins

  • Canned pumpkin isn’t actually pumpkin. It’s a type of squash similar to butternut and acorn squash.
  • The word pumpkin was first used in literature in the fairy tale Cinderella.
  • Jack-O-Lanterns were originally made out of potatoes and rutabagas by people in Ireland. They carved faces into these root vegetables to scare away evil spirits. When the tradition came to America pumpkins became the produce of choice to carry on the tradition with.
  • Pumpkins are part of the squash family and one of the earliest domesticated plants. Squash were grown by people 7,500-10,000 years ago. It’s theorized that they didn’t taste particularly good but the people used them for containers and possibly ate the seeds.
  • Pumpkins became popular in the American colonies. Colonists would fill pumpkins with milk, spices, and honey and bake the pumpkin for a sweet treat.

Please comment below with your own thoughts on whether or not pumpkins are a fruit or vegetable or anything else related!

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