Pumpkin is a star ingredients to incorporate into your recipes. In this post I will introduce all you need to know about this incredible vegetable (well actually it's technically a fruit!)
Pumpkin is a delicious, versatile and easy ingredient to add into your recipes. They have a naturally sweet flavor which makes it a suitable ingredient in dishes like custards, cheesecakes, pies, cakes, pancakes and ice-creams. However, it works just as well in savory dishes such as roasted vegetables, soups, curries, stews and pastas.
There is no denying that once autumn rolls in, the pumpkin reigns supreme. All year long folks wait for their favourite coffee shops to fill with the aroma of spiced lattes. It's the season when grocery stores stock their shelves with limited edition cookies, cakes, pies and ice creams. October is synonymous with Halloween jack-o-lanterns; as Thanksgiving and Christmas approaches we pull out our time-honored pumpkin pie recipes. It seems that no food symbolizes the blustery Autumn fall season quite like pumpkins do.
Pumpkins are one of the oldest domesticated plants, having been used as early as 7,500 to 5,000 BC. Archaeologists discovered the oldest domesticated pumpkin seeds in the Oaxaca Highlands of Mexico. They are believed to have originated in Central America over 7,500 years ago.
The first pumpkins held very little resemblance to the sweet, bright orange variety we are familiar with today. The original pumpkins were small and hard with a bitter flavour. Rather than using their nutritional and readily available seeds, pre-Columbian natives grew pumpkins for their flesh.
They were among the first crops grown for human consumption in North America. Thanks to their solid thick flesh, pumpkins proved ideal for storing during cold weather and in times of scarcity.
Seasonality & Availability
Pumpkins are grown all around the world for a variety of reasons ranging from agricultural purposes (such as animal feed) to commercial and ornamental sales. Of the seven continents, only Antarctica is unable to produce pumpkins!
In 2018, world production of pumpkins (including squash and gourds) was 27.6 million tonnes, with China and India accounting for half of the total. Ukraine and Russia each produced about one million tonnes.
Pumpkins are a warm-weather crop usually planted in early July. The specific conditions necessary for growing pumpkins require that soil temperatures 8 centimeters (3 in) deep are at least 15.5 °C (60 °F) and that the soil holds water well. Pumpkin crops may suffer if there is a lack of water or because of cold temperatures (in this case, below 18 °C or 65 °F). Soil that is sandy with poor water retention or poorly drained soils that become waterlogged after heavy rain are both detrimental.
Pumpkins are rather hardy, and even if many leaves and portions of the vine are removed or damaged, the plant can very quickly re-grow secondary vines to replace what was removed.
What is the difference between pumpkin and squash?
Well, to keep it simple, pumpkin is one type of squash and squash generally refers to four species of genus cucurbita, including the species to which pumpkin belongs.
So, to make it clearer, both squash and pumpkin belong to the same family (the cucurbitaceae). A pumpkin is a type of winter squash.
Squash is considered a fruit as it grows on a vine. We usually break down the squash family to winter or summer squash, depending on when they are harvested. While commonly viewed as a vegetable, pumpkin is scientifically a fruit, as it contains seeds. That said, it’s nutritionally more similar to vegetables than fruits which is why I include it in the vegetable section on my food library!
Pumpkin can be grown in many parts of the word whereas growing other varieties of squash are more restricted by specific weather conditions. Because of this, you’ll find specific types of squashes being grown in different parts of the world.
Pumpkin has an impressive nutrient profile.
One cooked cup (245 grams) contains (2):
- Calories: 49
- Fat: 0.2 grams
- Protein: 2 grams
- Carbs: 12 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Vitamin A: 245% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Vitamin C: 19% of the RDI
- Potassium: 16% of the RDI
- Copper: 11% of the RDI
- Manganese: 11% of the RDI
- Vitamin B2: 11% of the RDI
- Vitamin E: 10% of the RDI
- Iron: 8% of the RDI
- Small amounts of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, folate and several B vitamins.
Besides being packed with vitamins and minerals, pumpkin is also relatively low in calories, as it’s 94% water.
It’s also very high in beta-carotene, a carotenoid that your body turns into vitamin A.
The main health benefits of including pumpkin into your diet on a regular basis:
- Boost immunity: High in vitamins
- Reduce risk of disease: High in anti-oxidants
- Sharp vision: Contains vitamin A and Beta-Carotene to protect eye sight
- Younger looking skin: Again the vitamin A and Beta-Carotene protect against UV rays
- Reduce blood sugar - may help treat diabetes
- Supports healthy weight-loss: High is fiber and slows digestion, keeping you fuller for longer.
How to cook pumpkin
Pumpkins have a very tough skin, so it requires some effort to slice (Be careful with our fingers!) Once you cut it, scoop out the seeds and any stringy parts, then slice the pumpkin into wedges or dice.
The easiest way to cook pumpkin is to toss the wedges in a little olive oil and roast in the oven until golden brown. This is a delicious way to cook pumpkin as the natural sugars in the pumpkin caramelise and give a satisfying flavour.
You can add pumpkin dice into curries, stews and soups. Just be mindful of the size you cut them in ratio to the length of cooking time. They will break up if overcooked and boiled vigorously.
Try cooking pumpkin dice in water until cooked, strain and blend until smooth. Use this puree in breads, pancakes, muffins and pies.
The pumpkin seeds are also edible and packed with nutrients which offer other heath benefits. Here is my recipe for Pumpkin Seed Milk. It is so easy to make, you can add to smoothies, muffins, pancakes or simple pour over your Pumpkin Spiced Granola.
Pumpkin leaves, usually of C. moschata varieties, are eaten as a vegetable in Korean cuisine. In various parts of India and Madheshis prepare saag and kachri/pakoda of the leaves and flowers.
My favourite pumpkin recipes
This is one of my all-time favourite Autumn breakfast recipes. You can make the mix the night before and pop in the oven first thing in the morning. Let the pumpkin spice aromas take over the kitchen.
- The origin of pumpkin pie occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in hot ashes.
- According to Guinness World Records, Mathias Willemijns of Belgium presented the heaviest pumpkin to date in 2016. The massive specimen weighed in at an astounding 2,624.6 lbs.
Where to buy
Eat local and eat seasonally. The best place to source your pumpkins is from your local market or grower. Pumpkins are a seasonal ingredient so enjoy them while they are abundant... they will not be available all year round!
Although, if you are resourceful, try cooking pumpkins into puree and freeze in small bag. You can use this for making pies, cakes and other recipes throughout the year.