Unless you’re a seasoned botanist or gardener, you’re probably not too familiar with the intricacies of the Cucurbita (Latin for gourd) genus. But, it turns out the gourd family is pretty interesting.
However, like many families, it can be a bit complex.
One thing that you’re probably already aware of though, is that pumpkins and butternut squash are different. But how different are they really?
Of course, pumpkins are perhaps slightly more famous of the two. They’re an essential part of American culture, known from pumpkin pies, jack-o’-lanterns, even the carriage in Cinderella!
However, there is no disrespect towards the butternut squash. While it may be slightly less represented, it’s an equally tasty and useful member of the gourd family.
But, when you compare the two: butternut squash vs pumpkin, what’s actually the difference? Of course, they look different. But they also have slightly different tastes, textures, uses, and nutritional value.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the differences and similarities between butternut squash and pumpkin.
What is Butternut Squash?
Butternut squash or Cucurbita moschata is a type of winter squash variety that grows on a vine.
Confusingly though, in Australia and New Zealand, it’s known as butternut pumpkin. This only adds to the mix-up between pumpkins and butternut squash!
As a variety of winter squash, it’s unsurprisingly harvested and eaten or used during the winter. Additionally, winter squash varieties are characterized by thicker and tougher skin that’s usually not eaten – unlike summer squash.
Butternut squash is usually cooked and utilized like a vegetable. It’s used in soups, casseroles, or roasted and eaten on its own. However, it’s actually classified as a fruit due to its internal seeds.
What is Pumpkin?
Unlike butternut squash, it’s a bit more difficult to define a pumpkin, oddly enough. A pumpkin is a cultivar (a plant that’s bred because of its desired traits) of winter squash. It typically has a round shape, with smooth, slightly ribbed skin, and generally has a deep yellow or orange skin. Like butternut squash, pumpkin also has orange flesh.
Now let’s get into the confusing bit. A pumpkin isn’t always actually its own distinct species. The “pumpkin” that most of us are familiar with (the round orange one) belongs to the Cucurbita pepo genus. However, it can also be a cultivar of Cucurbita maxima (e.g. Jarrahdale pumpkin), or the Japanese pie pumpkin (C. argyrosperma).
While each different species of pumpkin may be a part of a different family, technically, they may have different colors.
If they are shaped more like a sphere, the better chance they are a pumpkin. As the more oblong, flat, or otherwise “strange” shaped varieties will most likely be called a squash or a different name other than pumpkin.
Butternut Squash vs Pumpkin Taste
Now, some people be quite upset with me after I say this. But, I think that there isn’t a massive difference in the taste of butternut squash versus pumpkin. The people I’ve fooled into thinking a pumpkin pie was actually made from butternut squash can attest to this!
Okay, that might not be the best example considering how much sugar, cinnamon, and condensed milk I used, but I still don’t think they taste so different. However, there are indeed some subtle differences in the taste between butternut squash and pumpkins.
First, butternut squash has a slightly sweeter taste than pumpkin when it’s cooked (which would make sense why it worked well in my “pumpkin” pie I suppose). And when it’s roasted in the oven it carmelizes quite nicely.
Pumpkin, on the other hand, has a slightly more earthy taste and isn’t quite as sweet. Some things that pair nicely with pumpkin are truffles or bacon. Whilst roast pumpkin may not have the same sweetness as butternut squash, it’s also very tasty when cooked this way as well.
Butternut Squash vs Pumpkin Texture
There are multiple things we can talk about when referencing the texture of butternut squash versus pumpkin.
First, on the outside, they obviously have different shapes (oblong versus spherical), with the skin of them both generally being smooth.
However, sometimes the skin of pumpkins will be a bit rougher and thicker than their butternut squash family members. But, after you cut into them, if it weren’t for their obviously different shape, it would be hard to tell the difference between the two.
When uncooked and cooked, they both have orange flesh and have a similar texture. That said, when you bite into them you can tell there is a slight difference. Butternut squash tends to be a bit less stringy than pumpkin. This is perhaps why it’s more popular for pureed dishes.
Butternut Squash vs Pumpkin Nutrition
Apart from the obvious difference in shape, the next biggest difference is in the nutritional profiles of each.
It’s not easy to say which is definitely healthier, and there are some similarities simply due to their shared orange color. For example, they’re both high in beta-carotene. That said, they each have their own unique nutritional profile and benefits as well.
To compare the two, when looking at the same amount of calories (200) there are many similarities but also differences. First, regarding protein, carbs, fat, and dietary fiber butternut squash has 4g protein, 52g carbohydrates, 9g fiber, and 0g fat. Pumpkin on the other hand has 8g protein, 50g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, and 1g fat (monounsaturated).
Next, let’s look at the various vitamins and minerals. There are also a lot of similarities here. They have nearly identical percentages of the daily recommended doses.
However, pumpkin has more Vitamin A with 454% of the daily value versus 378% in butternut squash.
Butternut squash, though, has significantly more Vitamin C than pumpkin (124% of the daily value versus 92% in pumpkin).
Lastly, the only other significant difference is the amount of Vitamin B2. Butternut squash has only 8% of the recommended daily value versus the 77% that pumpkin has.
After looking through the nutritional value of both butternut squash and pumpkin, which is healthier? if I had to pick one, I’d give the pumpkin a slight edge because it’s a bit more nutrient-dense than butternut squash. However, they’ve both more than earned their place in a healthy, balanced diet. You don’t need to just pick one!
Butternut Squash vs Pumpkin Uses
Pumpkins and butternut squash both have various uses inside and outside the kitchen.
As I mentioned earlier, two of some of the most iconic items from North America include pumpkins: pumpkin pie and jack-o’-lanterns.
Some other uses for pumpkins that are uniquely American are the “biggest pumpkin” and pumpkin chunking contests. The first is pretty explanatory. Whoever grows the biggest pumpkin wins. Last year, in Half Moon Bay, California, a Washington man won with a 2,191-pound pumpkin. Pumpkin chunking is a contest where contestants launch pumpkins using catapults and trebuchets to see who can launch theirs the farthest.
Aside from delicious homemade pumpkin pie recipes, there are plenty of other uses for pumpkin in the kitchen. Next time you have some pumpkin to hand, try making a warming pumpkin soup – it’s perfect on a chilly autumn day! There’s also a whole heap of recipes you can make using pumpkin puree.
When it comes to butternut squash, it doesn’t have quite the cultural significance that pumpkins do, but they can be used to make many different dishes.
Some of my favorite uses for butternut squash are roasted butternut squash soup, butternut squash carbonara pasta, and butternut squash curry.