No ingredient has a stronger association with fall than the pumpkin, when this vegetable is elevated from lowly gourd to the star of desserts, meals and tablescapes. However there is much more to this vegetable, both from a culinary and nutrition perspective.
- ...can be prepared in a variety of ways. Pumpkins are for much more than pies. They taste great as a base for soup, as well as steamed, stewed and even fried.
- ...are easy to freeze. Simply slice up the pumpkin, blanch it for a couple minutes in boiling water, and freeze in well-sealed bags for up to a year.
- ...stay fresh for a long time. Whole, small pumpkins keep for several weeks even at room temperature. Cut pumpkin wrapped in foil can stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to a month.
- ...are a great option for dieters. A 100 gram serving contains only 19 to 45 calories depending on variety, and practically no fat.
- ...supports healthy vision. Pumpkins contain large amounts of vitamin A or beta-carotene, which is good for the skin, hair and eyes.
- ...are good for the bladder and kidneys. Thanks to its high potassium content (a good 300 milligrams per 100 grams) pumpkins support healthy kidney and bladder function.
What You Should Know About Pumpkins
Fans of the pumpkin will be surprised to find out that pumpkins aren’t a vegetable at all, but actually a berry. They belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, the same genus as melons and cucumbers.
Pumpkins come in various colours and patterns, ranging from orange and yellow to green and even black, and shapes ranging from oval to circle. Size also varies widely depending on the variety. Pumpkins can be as small as a coin, or grow up to thousand of pounds.
For thousands of years, the pumpkin has been an integral part of Central and South American diets. The oldest petrified pumpkin seeds were discovered in Mexico dating some 10,000 bc.
In the U.S., pumpkins are in season in the fall months, from September through the end of October.
Although pumpkins are botanically a fruit, their nutritional composition and flavor is much more similar to a vegetable. They have a mild, slightly nutty-sweet taste.
There are many varieties of edible pumpkins that differ greatly in taste and texture. Well-known pumpkins include the orange, small amber cup, green striped butter cup and the Hokkaido.
Ornamental pumpkins belong to the non-edible pumpkin varieties. They contain bitter substances (curcubitacins) which are toxic to humans and cause nausea and vomiting. Therefore these pumpkins are not suitable for consumption. But as decoration - especially on Halloween - they’re perfect.
How Healthy Is Pumpkin?
The pumpkin is packed with nutrients, and is a particularly good source of vitamin A, B vitamins, potassium, copper, manganese, phosphorus and iron. 100 grams of pumpkin already covers 26 percent of your daily vitamin A requirement and almost 10 percent of the daily requirement of potassium, which helps regulate the body’s fluit balance.
Pumpkins are also full of beta-carotene, the orange-red pigment that gives pumpkins their characteristic color. In the body, beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A as needed, which can help the retina absorb light better. For this reason, regular consumption of pumpkin can also help to maintain normal vision. Beta-carotenes also have a positive effect on the immune system,, while vitamin A can help keep intestines healthy.
The high amount of antioxidants in pumpkin flesh also help combat free radicals in the body, which can help keep skin looking young and health.
In addition to its nutrient-packed flesh, pumpkins contain another healthful treasure: pumpkin seeds. These delicious seeds contain healthy fatty acids, and provide high-quality vegetable protein, fibre and a ton of micronutrients including iron, zinc, copper and manganese as well as vitamin B3 and vitamin E. However, pumpkin seeds are not as low in calories as the flesh: 100 grams contain a whopping 500 calories.
|Pumpkin Nutritional Info (100 g)|
Shopping and Cooking Tips
It’s easy to test a pumpkin’s ripeness; simply clench your hand into a fist and gently tap the pumpkin's shell. If you hear a hollow noise, the pumpkin is ripe. Another way to tell is by the stem-- if its slightly dried, the pumpkin is ripe. If the pumpkin no longer has a stem, however, there may be putrefactive bacteria in the pumpkin which has spoiled it.
You can store a whole pumpkin for up to six months in a dark, dry and cool place with low humidity, as this can quickly rot the pumpkin. A pumpkin that has already been cut can be covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Pumpkin also stores well in the freezer-- simply cut into cubes, blanch and seal them in a freeze-safe bag.
Another great way to enjoy pumpkin for longer is by pickling it. Simply boil it in a sweet-sour broth of vinegar, sugar and spices (for example cloves or cinnamon) and jar for a delicious snack that stays fresh for months.
What To Make With Pumpkin
Some varieties of pumpkin, such as hokkaido, are eaten with the skin on, however most pumpkins should be peeled before cooking. Pumpkins’ nutty-sweet makes for a delicious soup, especially when garnished with aromatic ingredients like fresh ginger, chili or a drizzle of pumpkin seed oil.
Pumpkin’s hearty texture makes it a great base for vegetarian dishes. Simply season with sage, garlic and lemon juice, roast in the oven, and pair with a carb like noodles or rice. Pumpkins taste great with a variety of seasonings, particularly nutmeg, cumin and sage.