Pumpkins come in a variety of colors, ranging from the traditional orange to white, green, red, yellow, blue, and more. While orange pumpkins are the most common, especially for carving jack-o-lanterns and for use in seasonal pie fillings, other colors are increasingly available from specialty growers. The color of pumpkins depends on the variety, with heirloom and novelty varietals exhibiting the most diversity.
What Determines Pumpkin Color?
The predominant pigment that gives pumpkins their orange color is carotenoid. Carotenoids are plant pigments that reflect certain wavelengths of light, producing yellow, orange, and red hues. The most common carotenoid found in pumpkins is beta-carotene, which generates the familiar orange color. The more beta-carotene in the pumpkin, the deeper and richer the orange color will be.
Other factors like the pH of the soil, temperature, moisture, and exposure to sunlight during the growing season impact how much carotenoid pigment develops in the shell of the pumpkin. Cooler nights tend to enhance carotenoid production, leading to more vibrant colors.
Varieties of Colored Pumpkins
While orange is considered the “normal” color, pumpkins actually come in a wide variety of hues:
|New England Pie||Orange|
|Baby Pam||Light orange|
|Rouge Vif D’Etampes||Red|
|Galeux D’Eysines||Pinkish-orange with warty skin|
|Musque de Provence||Tan|
This table shows some common varieties that produce pumpkins in colors other than orange. Heirloom pumpkins tend to have the most diversity in color.
What Causes Different Colored Pumpkins?
The color of pumpkins stems from the genetics of the seeds. Cross-breeding pumpkins with different pigmentation has led to more colorful varieties.
Instead of carotenoids, other pigments are responsible for the range of pumpkin colors:
– Red and Pink: The pigment lycopene gives some heirloom varieties like Rouge Vif D’Etampes their reddish-pink color. Lycopene is an antioxidant also found in tomatoes and watermelon.
– Blue: The blue-gray exterior of varieties like Jarrahdale comes from the antioxidant anthocyanin, which is affected by soil pH levels. Anthocyanins provide the blue, purple, and red colors in fruits and vegetables.
– White: Lack of pigments results in white pumpkins like Casper. These are a mutation that prevents carotenoids from forming properly.
– Yellow and Gold: Lutein and zeaxanthin are two yellow carotenoids that lead to pumpkins that are orange-yellow or gold.
– Green: Chlorophyll causes the green skin that can be seen on some immature pumpkins when the shell has not fully ripened. The intensity of green can vary among green-skinned heirlooms.
Environmental factors like temperature and soil composition also influence how strongly these pigments come through in the mature fruit.
Availability of Colored Pumpkins
Orange pumpkins dominate the fall pumpkin market, making up over 90% of pumpkins sold in the U.S. Specialty colored pumpkins are less widely available but are gaining popularity for their unique hues and use in decoration:
– Farmers markets and pumpkin patches may offer some heirloom varieties in colors beyond basic orange. These are produced in smaller batches and tend to sell out fast.
– Specialty grocery stores and gourmet markets sometimes carry white, blue, and green pumpkins in the fall months. Stock is often limited.
– Online mail order catalogs provide the widest selection of uniquely colored pumpkins that can be shipped nationwide.
– Seed companies sell seeds that grow into more exotic pumpkin varieties for home garden planting. This requires planning a season ahead of time.
While not as readily found in supermarkets, the interest in novel pumpkin colors is growing. More small farms are expanding their colorful pumpkin offerings each year.
Flavors of Colored Pumpkins
In general, the interior flesh of specialty colored pumpkins has a similar taste to orange pumpkins. The flavor is determined more by pumpkin variety than exterior hue.
However, some guidelines for the flavor of colorful pumpkins include:
– Red: Some of the red-skinned pumpkins like Rouge Vif D’Etampes have a richer, sweeter flavor than typical orange pumpkins. The deep orange flesh is reminiscent of carrots.
– White: White-skinned pumpkins have a milder flavor with a light and tender texture. The pale interior works well in dishes where appearance is important.
– Blue and green: These pumpkins have firm, dense flesh with sweetness comparable to regular orange varieties. Their unique colors make them ideal for baking breads, cookies, and other decorative foods.
– Gold: Gold pumpkins offer a sweeter flavor that makes great pies and soups. Some describe the flavor as a cross between butternut squash and pumpkin.
Regardless of exterior color, smaller “sugar” pumpkins tend to bake and puree better for recipes that call for pumpkin flesh. Larger carving-style pumpkins are better suited for jack-o-lanterns.
Uses for Colored Pumpkins
In addition to traditional pumpkin purposes like carving jack-o-lanterns and baking pies, uniquely colored pumpkins add decorative flair in a number of ways:
– Arrange pumpkins of different colors and textures on tables, porches, doorsteps, and other displays. Mixing white, orange, green, and other colors makes for an eye-catching autumn arrangement.
– Use pumpkins in flower arrangements by spray painting them and combining them with flowers and greenery. This provides a fall feel.
– Make colorful pumpkin soup or pumpkin seed snacks using the interior flesh of red, white, green, or gold pumpkins. Serve in the emptied pumpkin shell for presentation.
– Roast seeds from specialty pumpkins to enjoy their unique flavors. Seeds from green pumpkins have an earthy taste, while red pumpkin seeds take on a nutty flavor when roasted.
– Replace oranges with white pumpkins for centerpieces, wreaths, and other decorations with a fall twist. White pumpkins offer a clean background for accents.
– Use blue-green pumpkins as unconventional serving bowls for dips, soups, and baked goods. Hollow out and clean thoroughly before filling.
The diversity of pumpkin colors allows for more creativity and eye-catching displays that complement typical orange pumpkins.
Growing Colored Pumpkin Varieties
It is possible to grow a rainbow of pumpkin colors in your own vegetable garden. Here are some tips:
– Search for heirloom pumpkin seed varieties that produce colors you want like blue, red, white, and gold.
– Amend soil with compost or manure before planting seeds in the spring after danger of frost. Pumpkins need nutrient-rich soil.
– Allow at least 6-8 feet between hills for vines to spread. Mix seeds with fertilizer in mounds, planting 1 inch deep.
– Water at the base of plants and use mulch to retain moisture while preventing weeds.
– Monitor for pests and diseases. Be prepared to cover plants if early frost threatens in the fall.
– Harvest pumpkins when they reach mature size and colors develop fully. Cut rather than pulling vines.
– Cure for 10 days in warm, dry area to harden shells before cleaning and decorating.
With proper care and ideal growing conditions, it is possible for home gardeners to enjoy their own unique pumpkins.
While traditional orange pumpkins are most common, heirloom varieties and specialty cultivars allow pumpkins to come in a rainbow of colors. Shades of red, pink, blue, white, yellow, and green are possible depending on the pigments and genetics of the seeds. Colored pumpkins tend to have similar tasting flesh but provide more visual appeal for fall decorating. As interest grows, more farmers markets, produce stands, and gardeners are featuring these colorful fruits. With some searching and specialty buying, cooks, crafters, and decorators can find a full palette of pumpkins to complement the familiar oranges of the season.