Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:23 pm
As soon as the season starts, they are again in abundance on market stalls and in the vegetable section of the supermarket: pumpkins. But which ones are also suitable for eating and don’t just look pretty? We would like to introduce you to the most popular varieties and show you how to tell the difference between ornamental and edible pumpkins.
There are countless pumpkins. In fact, there are more than 850 varieties worldwide. Of these, however, only about 200 pumpkins are edible. These are edible pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo), which incidentally also include courgettes. The rest are the so-called ornamental pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo ovifera).
Can you eat ornamental pumpkins?
The answer is no. Ornamental pumpkins are really beautiful to look at, but they contain toxic bitter substances (cucurbitacins). These can cause nausea and even heart palpitations, according to the Federal Centre for Nutrition (BZfE).
From a botanical point of view, pumpkin (cucurbita), whether edible or not, is not a vegetable. Like melons or cucumbers, it is a berry fruit. The autumnal-looking berry fruit originally comes from Latin America, but is now successfully cultivated all over the world.
Recognising edible pumpkins
If you can tell ornamental pumpkins from edible pumpkins, you are doing yourself a favour, because if the varieties are not labelled for once, you can avoid the usually bitter and poisonous flesh of the ornamental varieties.
The best way to recognise ornamental pumpkins is that they are much smaller than edible pumpkin varieties and often have a much more striking colour and shape. They should also always be labelled as such in the shop. Ornamental pumpkins look really pretty and are therefore very suitable for autumnal pumpkin decorations. They also contain less flesh and taste inedible.
But which pumpkins are edible? Garden pumpkins are edible pumpkins. They also come in many different varieties. The colours, shapes and also flavour profiles differ, so there is a variety for every palate. These edible pumpkins usually have bright yellow or red flesh that is easy to remove.
Better safe than sorry
If you are still in doubt about whether the pumpkin you are looking at is edible, you can try a small piece. If the taste is bitter, just spit it out immediately.
Whether in soups, baked, deep-fried or pickled, as a puree, side dish or even chutney and jam – edible pumpkins are real all-rounders and very healthy. The flesh contains many vitamins, minerals and fibre and is particularly low in calories. Pumpkin seeds also have a lot to offer. For example, they contain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids.
Which pumpkin varieties are edible?
If you like to be precise, edible pumpkins can be divided into winter and summer pumpkins. Winter pumpkins often have a hard skin and a round stem. The best-known varieties are the giant pumpkin, the Hokkaido, the nutmeg pumpkin and the butternut pumpkin. These can be stored in a dark and cool place for many months. You can find out how this works here.
Summer pumpkins, on the other hand, do not store so well and should be eaten as soon as possible. Their skin is not quite as firm. Popular examples are the patisson, the oil pumpkin (from which valuable pumpkin seed oil is primarily extracted!), and the spaghetti pumpkin. But we would like to introduce you to our favourites among the edible pumpkins. Among them are also small specimens that are even suitable for the tub.
Giant pumpkin: Yellow and red centner
The iconic giant pumpkin is also called a centner. It comes in two varieties, yellow and red. The names partly give it away. The yellow centner, for example, has a yellowish skin and weighs about 30 to 40 kg. The red centner weighs less and comes in a rich red-orange colour. On average, it weighs between 5 and 10 kg. In rare cases, however, it can reach up to 20 kg. Both garden pumpkins are suitable for soup, oven vegetables, quiche, puree, chutney and jam.
Hokkaido: The most popular edible pumpkin
The Hokkaido is probably one of the most popular edible pumpkins. This could be because its skin is also edible and it has a nice eating size. The sometimes strenuous peeling of pumpkins can therefore be omitted. In addition, Hokkaido impresses with its fine, sweetish flavour as well as its diverse preparation possibilities.
Since the peel can also be used, recipes with the edible pumpkin shine in rich red-orange. The absolute classic, pumpkin soup, but also puree, tarte flambée, pumpkin quiche or a range of different oven dishes such as baked pumpkin become particularly delicious this way. The average Hokkaido weighs between 0.5 and 3 kg.
The usually dark green, rarely brownish nutmeg pumpkin is rather underestimated in Europe. Weighing up to 20 kg, it is a rather large edible pumpkin, which is impressive to look at with its yellow to orange-red flesh. And its taste is not to be underestimated either: Delicately spicy, fragrant, fruity and slightly acidic in flavour, it also captivates with a slight hint of nutmeg – really fine! And the nutmeg pumpkin can be stored for a long time. Oven dishes, but especially desserts, are happy to have the nutmeg pumpkin in them.
Like the Hokkaido pumpkin, the butternut is often found on the market. The elongated and beige-coloured squash is a medium-sized variety that weighs around 1 to 3 kg. Thanks to its sweet and nutty flavour and its fine buttery note, it tastes great in soups as well as in quiche or pasta sauce.
With a diameter of 10 to 15 cm, the patisson pumpkin is one of the smaller summer pumpkins. Due to its round and flat shape with jagged edges, it is also known as the UFO pumpkin, bishop’s or emperor’s cap. It is probably one of the oldest pumpkin varieties, as it is said to have been cultivated by the Incas.
Its colour varies greatly. Sometimes patisson comes in white, sometimes in yellow or green. Even bicoloured specimens with stripes or dots are available. When buying or growing in the patch, you should opt for smaller fruits, because the smaller they are, the more aromatic they are. Then the pretty pumpkin tastes like courgette or artichoke and refines soups or purees.
Very special: tender and young patissons can be eaten raw, with skin and seeds. That’s why they are also wonderful for pickling.
The oil pumpkin, also called Styrian oil pumpkin, on the other hand, is a still young edible pumpkin. This special and natural mutation only came into being about 150 years ago. Instead of a thick skin, the seeds have only a thin membrane. This makes the production of seed oil extremely easy, which is why it is mainly used for the production of pumpkin seed oil.
Fully grown oil pumpkins weigh between 8 and 10 kg. Then one specimen contains up to 1,000 seeds. But only if it has not been eaten before. For it is quite possible to eat oil pumpkins. However, it is better to eat them when they are still young, tender and green. Then they taste good baked, in puree or as a side dish. The blossoms can also be stuffed or baked, similar to courgette blossoms.
If pumpkin soup and the like need to take a break, this impressive candidate comes into play: the spaghetti squash! The flesh of this delicacy looks like spaghetti after cooking and a little shape-giving forking and is therefore eponymous. This 3 kg summer squash could also pass for a pale honeydew melon with its pale yellow skin.
Its flesh tastes mild and nutty. Besides the possibility of using spaghetti squash like pasta with sauce, there are a variety of other recipes in which this edible squash can shine. It also tastes great deep-fried, for example in French fries with a delicious dip.
Small edible pumpkins for the balcony: ‘Jack be Little’ and ‘Sweet Dumpling’.
By the way, among the edible pumpkins there are also a few small varieties that can even be grown in a tub on the balcony. These include the small varieties ‘Jack be Little’ and ‘Sweet Dumpling’. The fruits of the ‘Jack be Little’ grow to about 150 to 300 g. They are delicious in many dishes. They taste good in many dishes and even raw. Their spicy taste is reminiscent of nutty sweet chestnuts.
Sweet Dumplings’ reach between 300 and 600 g. Their sweet taste is unparalleled and their flesh remains nice and crunchy even after cooking. Even the skin can stay on the pumpkin, because it is edible. This pumpkin, which also tastes like chestnuts, can be eaten raw, boiled, baked or fried.
Eat pumpkin raw?
Basically, all edible pumpkins can be eaten raw. However, there are a few varieties that are particularly tasty raw. These are nutmeg, butternut and Hokkaido pumpkins. It doesn’t matter which variety you choose. The pumpkins must always be washed thoroughly. Except for the Hokkaido, you should also remove the peel.
With most vegetables, many nutrients and vitamins can be lost during cooking. This is also the case with edible pumpkins, which is why it is worth preparing them raw, both for their health and their taste. For example, grated pumpkin can be used in a pumpkin salad with a spicy dressing. Finely diced and combined with fruits such as banana or pear, raw pumpkin is also delicious in smoothies.