“Squash” vs. “Gourd”: Can You Taste The Difference?

There are many things that signify autumn’s arrival. Pumpkin spice everything, for example, or the slight nip of cold air. Yet few things scream fall as much as a bountiful harvest—particularly when it comes to the squash and gourd harvest.

Fall is the season for squash soup and pumpkin pie on the table, right alongside decorative gourds of all shapes and sizes. At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much difference between squash?and gourds other than the fact that some are relegated to eye candy and some make it onto your plate. Try to eat one of the set pieces in your cornucopia, however, and you’re in for disappointment.

Are squash?and gourds?the same thing?

Squash?and gourds (along with pumpkins, which are simply a type of squash) are members of the Cucurbitaceae family of plants. They’re defined by fruit-bearing, flowering vines that grow adjacent to the ground.

Cucurbitaceae is a large family with 98?genera and more than 900 species, and there’s a fair amount of overlap between squash and gourds. Both have subspecies of Cucurbita pepo, for example, which includes the turban gourd (decorative and delicious) and the acorn squash.?

Despite the similarities, squash and gourds are not the same thing, as anyone who has tried to eat their gourd knows. Getting the terminology right is the difference between a delicious fall meal and a bitter hard mess of a gourd that should have stayed on the front porch.

What is a squash?

A squash is defined as “any of various marrow-like cucurbitaceous plants of the genus Cucurbita” that produce fruits that “have a hard rind surrounding edible flesh.”

Squash are eaten as a vegetable. There are summer squash that have soft skins and are harvested in warmer months (think zucchini and yellow squash), and then there are winter squash, which have a hard shell covering a soft edible flesh and seeds, like pumpkins. Summer squash plants reach maturity in 45 to 60 days, while winter squash typically take 80 to 100 days.

The word originally comes from the Indigenous Narragansett word askútasquash, which literally means “green vegetable eaten green.” The word squash was first recorded in 1635–45.

According to the Library of Congress, squash were first cultivated around 10,000 years ago in what is modern-day Mexico. That makes them one of the oldest known crops. Squash played an important dual role: the inside was served as preservable food eaten throughout winter, and the outside was used for containers and utensils.?

Colonists from Europe adopted squash into their diets to help survive the harsh New England winters. It wasn’t long before squash cultivation became a central part of life: both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew edible squash. Round, orange squashes?have especially taken hold in American culture. Today, pretty much any squash that fits the description of somewhat round and somewhat orange is commonly deemed a pumpkin. (We all know a?pumpkin has its own pretty specific fall uses.)

What is a gourd?

When people use the word gourd, they’re referring to the inedible varieties of squash (or those that are simply less pleasant and nutritious to eat). A gourd is defined as “the hard-shelled fruit of any of various plants.” The word gourd dates back to 1275–1325, and the Middle English spelling included gourde and courde, which originally comes from the Old French c?orde.?

The biggest factor that separates a gourd from a squash is that the former is primarily used ornamentally. That means when it comes to choosing something to share at a festive meal, you can opt to cook a squash or create a festive centerpiece with a few decorative gourds.

Subspecies of Lagenaria siceraria are some of the most emblematic gourds. These are thought to originally come from Africa, but have long existed in parts of Asia and the Americas. Common names include hardshell, bottle, and dipper gourds. These gourds have historically been hollowed out and used as storage containers for all sorts of purposes, including collecting sap, transporting water, and housing bees. (Fascinating, but a beehive gourd is probably?not?the best fall offering for your next family feast.)

 

As you prepare for holiday gatherings and elaborate family meals, think about how many words, including squash, come from Indigenous languages. Take a look at this list and see how many you already knew.

Or find out if other countries celebrate Thanksgiving the same ways we do …

WATCH: Do Other Countries Have A Thanksgiving?

The Dictionary Is More Than The Word Of The Day

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