Food

Canned pumpkin probably isn’t what you think it is.

by Leah Kirts

September 28, 2016

Nothing says autumn like the sight of golden leaves, oversized sweaters, and hefty orange pumpkins. We set them on our doorsteps to woo fall, carve them up for Halloween decor, toast their seeds, and puree their insides into the quintessential pie of Thanksgiving. Would a pumpkin by any other name taste as sweet? Yes, it turns out.

Your can of 100 percent pumpkin puree is lying to you. According to FDA labeling laws, food producers are not required to distinguish between varieties of squash and field pumpkins in their products. This is because members of the cucurbits family—aka gourds, squash, pumpkin, and zucchini—are very similar in taste and texture, so differentiating between squash and pumpkin pulp is basically impossible.

Who among us hasn’t felt the pangs of betrayal when we found out that our pumpkin-spice lattes were actually pumpkinless? While the deceptive flavor of pumpkin spice is uncanny—it’s an almighty blend of ground ginger, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg—the taste and appearance of squash proves to be the best doppelgänger. It mimics pumpkin so closely that you can’t tell the difference when looking right at it in the can. Though some pumpkin products contain a mixture of the two gourds blended together, others are pure squash.

So, why not just call it like it is? For starters, there are countless types of squash that vary dramatically in size, shape, and color—making it difficult to choose one to represent them all—while pumpkins are more easily standardized. Then there’s the history and folklore behind pumpkins that squash cannot compete with. Pumpkins are symbols of harvest, Halloween, and pure magic. If Cinderella’s enchanted pumpkin coach had been crafted from a squash, things might be a lot different today.

Beyond aesthetics, does the pumpkin even matter? This time of year, you can get practically anything you want made with the spirit of pumpkin spice, including body lotion, vodka, chips, candles, and dog treats, with nary an actual pumpkin to be found. We discover that after Starbucks went to all that trouble to ensure your latte has real pumpkin in it, surprise—it’s actually squash.

The proverbial #PSL rug has been pulled out from under us yet again, but now at least we know our pumpkin-themed fantasies were never rooted in reality. The emperor has no clothes; the pumpkin puree has no pumpkin. The great and powerful Oz was just a man behind a curtain, and the true leader of the pumpkin cult is actually a squash. If authenticity is what you’re after, order yourself a sweet, steaming squash-spice latte and take comfort that at last you’ve found the real thing.

Header Photo via Flickr

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