As It Happens

Food writer discovers we're actually eating the pumpkin's 'uglier cousin'

A food writer from Birmingham, Alabama says the stuff found in canned pumpkin is not what she thought it was. As It Happens host Carol Off speaks with Emma Crist.
The canned pumpkin used to make pies doesn't come from these pumpkins. In fact, what you're eating is actually a mix made from a variety of winter squash. (Dean Gutheil/CBC)

With autumn finally here and Thanksgiving just around the corner, this time of year often means the comeback of a fall favourite: pumpkin-flavoured things. 

From pumpkin spice lattes to pumpkin pie, it might come to one's surprise that the stuff used to make those treats isn't the pumpkin you think it is. 

Emma Crist, a food journalist with MyRecipes.com. (Emma Crist/Twitter)

"I came across an article from several years ago saying that canned pumpkin, which lines the supermarket aisles this time of year, is actually not 100 per cent pumpkin. It can be made from some varieties of squash," says Emma Crist, a food writer for MyRecipes.com.

Crist says the U.S Food and Drug Administration is lenient when it comes to defining a pumpkin and a squash. Therefore, all pumpkins and a variety of squash from the gourd family are considered pumpkins and the two terms are used interchangeably. 

Crist adds that canned pumpkin is sometimes made from a blend of winter squash because it's sweeter and tastes better. 

"Ninety per cent of the canned pumpkin products in supermarkets are made from something called a Dickinson Pumpkin," she says. "All pumpkin are squash. But not all squash are pumpkin. There's some grey area that exists currently."

Crist warns against using the Halloween night variety we find on porches.

"If you to try to roast your own Jack-o'-lantern pumpkin, it's going to end up more watery. If you try to use that as puree, it's going to be more watery and stringy," she says. 

The puree used to make this pumpkin pie actually contains a variety of different squash. (Larry Crowe/ Associated Press)

While Crist doesn't think it's necessarily wrong or misleading for companies to market the canned goods as "100 per cent pumpkin," she admits she feels a bit disappointed. 

"I do think it's interesting that we think we're eating this rotund orange, bright beautiful pumpkin. And in reality, that is not quite what we're eating. What we're eating more closely resembles a butternut squash. It's kind of the uglier cousin of the pumpkin." 

Since the canned pumpkin revelation, Crist is already making light of the situation. 

"I've been saying all week that I've been making squash bread and drinking squash-spiced latte rather than pumpkin!" 

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