Do you know what a pumpkin is? A fruit or a vegetable? At first glance, intuition revolted. Given its culinary applications (savoury) and seasonal affinity with autumnal vegetable harvests and repasts (pumpkin pie, Lidl’s tootsy mash), it seemed most fitting to consider pumpkin a vegetable. Yet from a strictly botanical perspective, the issue is not up for debate: pumpkin is a fruit.

Understanding the Botanical Definition

Botanically speaking, a fruit is the part of an organism that grows from the seed-containing part of the plant called the flower. Fruit is distinguished from other parts of the plant eaten by humans, such as leaves (lettuce), stems (celery), roots (carrots) and flowers (broccoli), which are known collectively as vegetables. A fruit, by definition, contains the seed or reproductive organs of a plant and its primary purpose is to facilitate the propagation of new plants through the transmission of seeds.

Then each pumpkin develops from the flowers that grow out of this part of the pumpkin plant and contain seeds. So pumpkins have every botanical attribute of a fruit and are seeds within a fleshy structure. Therefore, if the answer had been simple, we probably would not be enjoying pumpkin-flavoured everything in October. Botanically, in fact, pumpkins qualifying as a pepo is a bit of the fruit ‘or’ in the answer. Strictly speaking, according to botanists, pumpkins are a type of berry, and all types of berries are a pepo: a fleshy structure formed around the ovaries of angiosperm flowers and having a hard protective coat (thick rind) and fleshy interior. A blackberry, for example, is a pepo. We don’t ordinarily think of pumpkins as being berries. Sometimes, though, something changes from incredible to incredulous.

Culinary Perspective

Part of this confusion results from the fact that foods don’t fall into botanical categories in culinary terms, which is where taste, preparation and tradition play a role in our perception of something as a fruit, vegetable or something in between. In the kitchen, food is culturally grouped as a fruit if it’s sweet and typically eaten raw or for dessert, juices, smoothies, ice cream etc. Vegetable on the other hand, has either a more savoury or less distinctly sweet taste profile and is generally used as a component to main dishes and sides. Most pumpkins are used in savoury preparations – in soups, for roasting, stuffing and as a sweetening element in pastry pie fillings with sugar and spices. So this blurring of culinary categories further muddles our perception of something as this or that in everyday cooking and eating.

Nutritional Aspects

Independent of taxonomy, pumpkins are a healthy product overall. They are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, especially vitamin A, essential for good vision, skin, and a strong immune system with anti-inflammatory properties. Furthermore, pumpkins are a good source for fibre, helping with digestion and feeling full.

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