Is Your Canned Pumpkin Actually Made of Pumpkin?

You would NOT want to make a Jack-o'-lantern from a Libby's squash.

Whether you’re baking a pie or trying these other creative ways to use pumpkin puree, you can be sure you’re loading up on everyone’s favorite fall flavor… right? The thing is, some are claiming pumpkin puree is really not pumpkin at all.

Some angry chefs and foodies have been complaining that canned pumpkin is false advertising—the puree inside is actually a different squash. After all, the FDA is pretty loose about the foods it allows to be marketed as “pumpkin.” The agency will allow companies to call their purees “pumpkin” as long as it’s a mix of Cucurbita pepo (field pumpkins) or its close cousins Cucurbita maxima (sweet squashes such as Acorn, Kabocha, and Hubbard). Some distributors will even mix pumpkin and squash to get the right consistency. Here’s how you can decode these 11 tricky terms on food labels.

Case in point: Libby’s, which produces 85 percent of the world’s canned pumpkin, has come under fire for cultivating its own type of squash. Some argue the company is misleading buyers by bragging it sells “100 percent pure” pumpkin when it doesn’t actually use the pie pumpkins or carving pumpkins you’d find in stores. If squash could talk, here’s what it would tell you.

The thing is, it isn’t that simple.

Botanically and legally speaking, there’s no real difference between a pumpkin and a squash. It really just comes down to what sounds appetizing. “If I eat it with dinner, it’s squash; if it’s for dessert, it’s a pumpkin,” says John Ackerman, owner of Libby’s supplier Ackerman Family Farm. As for the “squash” Libby’s uses, it’s a variety of Dickinson pumpkin. Yes, pumpkin.

Admittedly, the Dickinsons that Libby’s uses aren’t as pretty as your typical pumpkin. Their skin is tan or beige, and their shape is more oblong than the round ones you hunt down for a Jack-o’-lantern (using these 31 free pumpkin carving stencils, of course). They might look like ugly pumpkins, but they look like pumpkins nonetheless. “It’s lightly ribbed and has a stem on it,” says Ackerman. “Looking at that Dickinson pumpkin, you would call it a pumpkin.”

Libby’s isn’t hiding what’s in their cans at all—it even has a full informational video showing off its ugly pumpkins. Here are 25 ways you can use up a can of pumpkin.

The canned pumpkin you’ll find has been cultivated to have a less stringy texture than the original Dickinsons it came from, but that doesn’t make it any less of a pumpkin. Instead of using high-tech GMOs, says Ackerman, plant breeders hand-pollinated Dickinson pumpkins to get the best flavor—sort of like how the carving pumpkins in your patch have been cultivated for their shape.

Don’t let the Dickinson pumpkins’ looks turn you off, either. Ackerman’s farm raises more than 160 other varieties of pumpkins for visitors to take home. Some of those are orange, but others are white, red, or even blue. Still, you probably won’t get compliments on the “pretty white squash” in your autumn decor. Since we’re on the topic of colors, here’s the real reason why the colors of Halloween are orange and black.

Bottom line? Instead of stressing about whether the squash in your puree would have made a nice Jack-o’-lantern, might as well just enjoy your pie. Next, we recommend these pumpkin spice products to enjoy your fall festivities.

Sources:

  • Food & Wine: “I just found out canned pumpkin isn’t pumpkin at all, and my whole life is basically a lie”
  • U.S. Food & Drug Administration: “CPG Sec 585.725 “Pumpkin” – Labeling Articles Made from Certain Varieties of Squash”
Purple Pumpkin trendCourtesy kathleen.browning/instagram

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Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.