You’d be shocked to learn how many types of pumpkins exist. It’s not just one big, orange guy. Dozens of varieties range from 2 feet long up to 20 feet long.
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You know those big ol’ orange Jack o’ Lanterns you carve every fall? Well, their species name is Cucurbita. Fancy, right? There are different Cucurbita species called ficifolia, maxima, mixta, moschata, and pepo that range in color in texture. Orange, red, white, blue, green, smooth, bumpy, stripped — there’s a little something for everyone.
But let’s settle a few debates before going any further. First, pumpkin is a type of squash and therefore considered a fruit (not a veggie). Pumpkins, as well as other varieties of squash (think winter squash), are edible. Gourds, on the other hand, are not edible. While pumpkin can be used for cooking and decorating, gourds are purely decorative.
The easiest way to look at it is there are types of pumpkins for eating, types of pumpkins for carving only, and types ideal for both. Edible pumpkins are used for making classic pumpkin pies and other baked goods as well as in savory dishes. They add flavor, yes, but color and consistency as well.
Sugar pie pumpkins look a lot like the Jack O’ Lanterns you carve but smaller. Their more petite size makes them ideal for cooking in many capacities, whether you’re roasting or pureeing to make pies or soups. It can be cooked into savory dishes or baked into sweet ones.
New England Cheddar
These medium-sized pumpkins resemble a giant cheese wheel, hence their nickname. It’s a lighter, creamier color of orange. Because they are sweeter with more sugar content, they are best used in baked goods like pie.
Long Island Cheese
Who knew there were so many pumpkins named after cheese? These medium-sized pumpkins with deep ridges will grow in various colors but are usually lighter if not white, sometimes with some green speckles. Similar to the New England Cheddar, it’s sweeter. But they are often used for everything from roasting to steaming to and grilling in addition to baking.
In the realm of what you expect pumpkin to look like, hybrid pams look like a cross between butternut squash and a jack o’ lantern. Use them to make pumpkin pie, or simple paint and pepper them around your porch for decoration.
Suitable for both roasting and in pies (they are very sweet), blue doll pumpkins look nothing like traditional pumpkins on Hallmark cards. They break the mold with their green exterior. The flesh is still orange, and they grow between 15 and 20 pounds.
It’s another excellent variety to bake with, but porcelain doll pumpkins are also great for savory dishes like soups. They lend a nice, creamy texture. They are light in color with deep ribs compared to your typical Jack O’ Lantern.
This is a type of white pumpkin that grows up to 12 pounds. While it can be tasty to cook with, they do spoil sooner than other pumpkin varieties. So, plan to cook it quickly, and don’t leave it on your porch as decoration.
Flat White Boer Ford
These are a smaller pumpkin variety with dense flesh that works great for baking pies. They are flat and look like they’ve been stepped on, and are white versus a traditional orange. Bonus: They are seedless, another fabulous pie-baking quality.
Yes, this pumpkin is named after the carriage in Cinderella. Though they are on the larger side, they might look a little flatter than you’d expect in real life. Sometimes they appear a reddish-orange. Their shape is not quite as squashed as the flat white but are still wider than tall. This type of pumpkin tastes best in savory dishes.
Rouge Vif d’Etampes
Tomatoes aren’t the only fruit heirlooms. This unique and special pumpkin variety is an heirloom and is named after an old French town. You can create a stunning table setting with these beauties, but they are also great for roasting.
The fairytale pumpkin is a small variety. They can be orange or bluish-green, but they almost always have very defined ridges and appear flattened. They lend a sweetness to baked goods and a creamy quality when cooked and pureed into soups.
Another variety that proves not all pumpkins are orange. The Jarrahdale pumpkin is small and bluish-green. They originated in New Zealand, and they weigh up to 10 pounds.
These are a hard-to-find Japanese pumpkin variety. Black futsus look like a pumpkin married a berry. You can eat it raw or cooked; it’s commonly roasted. They are more nutty and earthy than sweet when raw, but they do get sweet as they roast.
Kabocha pumpkins are another Japanese variety. The skin is dark green with yellow specks, and the flesh is a lighter yellow compared to the bright orange of traditional pumpkins. Consider roasting them as a side, or pureeing them into a soup.
Other types of pumpkins
Jack-Be-Littles, Baby Boos, Galeux d’Eysines, Tigers, Caspersitas, and Orangitas are all great decorations. New moon and Knucklehead pumpkins can also be carved, while the prizewinner, Crystal Star, and Jack O’Lantern are best for carving only.
Selecting and storing pumpkins
Pumpkins are at their peak in September and October, but they typically are available in stores through November. You can keep pumpkins for up to 90 days, but they may start to spoil after 30 days. They survive best in cool, dry areas. Once heat and humidity enter the scene, they may only last a couple of weeks. If you’re cooking your pumpkin, use within five days of cutting it open.
Sugar pumpkins are best for baking and one of the most common varieties in stores. Cinderella, Long Island Cheese, and New England Pie are other great baking varieties. Whether carving, cooking, or decorating with your pumpkin, watch out for soft spots. Always choose a pumpkin with the stem intact.
Health benefits of pumpkin
Any orange pumpkin variety is a sign of high vitamin A content, similar to carrots. Pumpkin also contains antioxidants such as beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin. According to the USDA, 1 cup of cubed, raw pumpkin contains 1g protein, .1g fat, 6.5g carbohydrates, .5 g fiber, 24 mg calcium, and 394mg potassium. You can even use pumpkin puree as a substitute for butter and oil and eggs as a healthy recipe swap.