I’m the Writer Who Started the Canned Pumpkin Controversy, and Here’s What Really Happened

September 29, 2016 | By | Comments (0)

Last week, I wrote an article challenging the veracity of canned pumpkin purée that inadvertently sparked a viral social media debate.


It’s been dubbed the “pumpkin controversy of the decade.” (I wasn’t aware there have been major pumpkin disputes in previous decades.)


I have been called a pumpkin racist.



I’ve pissed off all the PSL-loving basic white girls on the Internet.


Memes have been created about it.



TV networks have covered the story.


I was interviewed by CBC, and the spot aired on public radio in Canada and all over the United States.

My story has been shared across social media tens of thousands of times and has been covered by many of the largest media outlets in the country.

I’ve even been written about in Snopes!


Here’s the story: I recently came upon what I believed to be a verified (but well-hidden) fact: Namely, that canned pumpkin is actually made from a blend of several varieties of winter squash. Inspired by my “discovery,” I wrote an intentionally melodramatic, humorous reaction piece on the topic. In it, I joke about drinking “squash” spice lattes and make light of what the gourd execs must have been thinking when they decided to fool consumers into believing their canned squash was “100% pumpkin.” The story mixes satire with facts, and was intended to be a playful commentary on perception rather than a challenge to science.


You see (without ever giving much thought to the topic), I’ve always assumed the pumpkins going into my pumpkin bread look like this:

Photo: Getty Images

Jack-O’-Lantern Pumpkins / Photo credit: Getty Images


So I was surprised to learn they actually look like this:

Dickinson Pumpkins / Photo Credit: Getty Images

Dickinson Pumpkins / Photo credit: Getty Images


Here’s what I got wrong in my initial story: 85% of the country’s canned pumpkin is NOT made from a blend of winter squash.

Instead, the vast majority is canned from a variety called the Dickinson pumpkin (though the other 15% of pumpkin purée on grocery store shelves can be made from a blend of winter squash varieties).

Here’s what’s true: In appearance, texture, and taste, the type of pumpkin primarily harvest for canned purée is far more akin to butternut squash than it is to the Jack-O’-Lantern carving pumpkins of our idealistic fall fantasies (or the sugar pumpkins called for if you make a pumpkin pie completely from scratch).


Butternut Squash / Photo Credit: Getty Images

Butternut Squash / Photo Credit: Getty Images


Though there’s not a clear-cut, scientific definition for a pumpkin, the Dickinson pumpkin variety does meet the guidelines of current FDA standards for classifying pumpkins.

Yet, since there’s no official definition for a pumpkin and the Dickinson pumpkin is considerably closer related to a butternut squash than to the picturesque, glowing-orange pumpkins that many of us associate with the word “pumpkin,” maybe, just maybe, I’m not so far off after all.

The fact that the story spread so quickly, so fast, only confirms that a lot of people genuinely believe what I had long believed. Whether this is due in part to our own ignorance or brands perpetuating the common fall fantasy I can’t say–but perhaps it’s a mix of the two.

At the end of the day, pumpkins are all squash anyways, but not all squash are pumpkins. And you know what? My mind is STILL blown.


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