What’s The Difference: Kalabasa Vs. Pumpkin

A kalabasa is not a pumpkin.
Pumpkin vs squash or kalabasa

Two of the most popular Yummy.ph recipes of 2020 were kalabasa recipes: the ginataang kalabasa with SPAM and and kalabasang okoy. Kalabasa is a local variant of squash that is affordable and plentiful. It’s a hearty vegetable that, when cooked, is sweet, tender, and mashes well. 

It’s a popular ingredient and is well loved. Also spelled “calabasa”, this local squash however is not the same as the American pumpkin. A pumpkin is not a kalabasa but both are squashes. Here’s how to tell the difference: 

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1 Kalabasa is mostly green. Pumpkins are orange. 

Visit the palengke or the supermarket produce section and you’ll see many the green skin of the kalabasa are streaked with yellow. Sometimes the green is streaked so much with yellow-orange that it can overshadow the green. 

The pumpkin, also known as a sugar pumpkin, is a solid orange color all around. It’s this distinctive color as well as its almost perfectly round shape that makes it so identifiable among the other squashes.

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One thing to note about the pumpkin is that it has thicker outer skin than that you might find on a kalabasa so videos showing people finding it hard to cut a pumpkin are not as exaggerated as you might think. This characteristic of the pumpkin makes the kalabasa easier to prepare, especially for beginner and home cooks. 

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2 Kalabasa is yellow-orange on the inside. Pumpkin is bright orange.  

It’s common to find wedges or halves of the kalabasa ready portioned for you. This makes it easy to see that how ripe the kalabasa is and if it’s ready to be cooked into your dish. You’ll see that it’s not exactly orange in hue but rather a paler orange, with a tinge of yellow. 

The pumpkin is almost just as orange on the inside as it is on the outside. This makes pumpkin recipes beautifully orange in color. 

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Both are prepared similarly: slice open, remove the seeds and fibrous filaments, and cut into the size needed in the recipe. You might not know this but the pumpkin and kalabasa skins are edible. There is no need to peel these unless desired and for aesthetics. 

Photo by Majoy Siason

3 Kalabasa is available almost all year. Pumpkins are available late in the year. 

Kalabasa is usually planted from October to December and then again from May to July. This makes the kalabasa available almost all year since its seeds can be planted in both the dry and the wet seasons. This makes it easy to enjoy any time you want to have your ginataang kalabasa or okoy

The pumpkin is considered a winter squash. This means that it’s planted harvested during the latter quarter of the year. That’s why it’s plentiful during October in the United States when Halloween is its peak season. 

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Need pumpkin but only have kalabasa? Despite these differences, the good news is that for the purposes of most recipes, you can use the local kalabasa for many pumpkin recipes that you can find on the internet. It’s an easy swap; use as much kalabasa as it calls for pumpkin in the recipe and you can’t go wrong! 

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