“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, right alongside decorative gourds of all shapes and sizes. At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much difference between squash and gourds. Which word we use usually depends on whether they make it onto your plate or are relegated to eye candy.

Prepare to get some facts squashed into your gourd about the difference between squash and gourds, including the different varieties of each and the big question: is a pumpkin a squash or a gourd?

⚡️Quick summary

The word squash is typically used to refer to the kind of fruit with a hard rind surrounding edible flesh, like butternut and acorn squash (which are varieties of winter squash) or zucchini and yellow squash (varieties of summer squash). Pumpkins are a kind of squash. The word gourd is typically used to refer to the decorative varieties of squash that we don’t eat.

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, the words squash and gourds are often used differently, 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.” (The plural can be squashes, but the plural form squash is usually used to refer to them collectively.)

The word squash is typically applied to those that are eaten (they’re technically fruits, but they’re usually treated as vegetables). 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 and butternut squash). 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 is first recorded in English around 1640.

Squash is thought to have been 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 are known to have grown 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 pumpkin has its own pretty specific fall uses.)

What is a gourd?

The word gourd is most precisely used to refer to 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 cöorde.

The biggest factor that separates a gourd from a squash is that the word gourd is used for those that are 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 gourd, bottle gourd, and dipper gourd. 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.)

WATCH: Do Other Countries Have A Thanksgiving?


As you prepare for holiday gatherings and family meals, take a look at some of the words, including squash, that come from Indigenous languages. 

Previous "Teacher" vs. "Tutor": Why Most Kids Need Both Next 13 Pizza Terms And Styles To Sauce Up Your Pizza Lingo