What is pumpkin?
Pumpkin is a type of winter squash and a member of the gourd family. They can range in color from white to green to bright orange. And their size can range from less than one pound to over 1,000 pounds! Pumpkins have large flat seeds and an edible flesh that can be bitter or sweet. The taste of the flesh depends on the maturity of the pumpkin.
When is pumpkin in-season?
It seems each year it’s season gets earlier and earlier. Or should I say “pumpkin spice” season?! Pumpkins are planted in warmer months throughout much of the United States. They are ready to harvest when their rind in hard and are a deep, solid color. Typically this happens anywhere from September through November.
Why does everyone love pumpkin?
Is it just us? And by us, I mean us “Americans”. Are we the only ones obsessed with everything pumpkin? It appears just about anything you can think of comes in pumpkin spice flavor. And it’s not just limited to sweet foods. Pumpkin and pumpkin spice is showing up in ravioli, quesadillas, and crackers.
So what is it about it that makes us so crazy over this gourd?
Turns out it’s all about the smell. Think about it. When you smell pumpkin, what do you think of? Fall. We associate pumpkin and pumpkin spice with fall holidays and memories associated with this time.
Smell is one of the senses that’s transmitted in the emotional center of our brain. This means when we encounter certain smells it quickly brings us back to a certain time, place, or feeling.
So. the flavor of pumpkin can trigger warm memories of baking, family gatherings, and other fall festivities.
A brief history
Although the exact origin is unknown, pumpkins are believed to originate in Central America over 7,500 years ago. Originally, they were not like the pumpkins we are used to nowadays. They were very small and biter in taste.
Pumpkins were one of the first crops grown in North America that were intended for human consumption. Native Americans used them to get through those long, cold winters. They not only consumed pumpkin they used larger ones for storage!
Overtime, pumpkins were disbursed through trade to various continents and are currently harvested in six countries. While it’s is a staple in many peoples diet throughout the world, in the US, we typically reserve pumpkin for fall foods and decorating.
How pumpkins grow
Pumpkins are pretty easy to grow! They grow on a vine and through pollination they start to grow inside a flower. They begin as a small green pumpkin and over time their color changes from green to yellow to orange as they grow larger. You know it’s ready for harvest when the rind is hard and they are a deep orange color.
Is pumpkin a fruit or a vegetable?
Believe it or not, it’s a fruit!
Why? Well, botanists define fruit as “a seed-bearing structure in angiosperms formed from the ovary after flowering”. What? In other words, they’re a product of the seed-bearing structure of flowering plants.
So technically pumpkin matches the description of the botanist definition and it would be considered a fruit.
Vegetables, on the other hand, are all the other parts of plants consumed by humans. Believe it or not, there isn’t a botanist definition for the term vegetable.
If you ask a chef, a fruit is the edible part of a plant that’s usually sweet or sour. So because pumpkins are more savory, we put them in the vegetable category.
Is pumpkin a carb?
Well, to set the record straight, all vegetables contain carbs. But we categorize vegetables into two categories: non-starchy vegetables and starchy vegetables.
So, what is starch? Starch is a form of complex carbohydrate which translates to: it’s made of many units of sugar. And while this may lead you to believe starchy vegetables aren’t good for you, this isn’t true. Natural forms of starch, such as starchy vegetables, are much healthier than unnatural forms of starch such as cookies and crackers.
With all that being said, pumpkin is considered a starchy vegetable, a type of carbohydrate. And even if we went with a botanists definition of it really being a fruit, fruit is a type of carb. So either way you look at it, pumpkin is a carb!
Now that we’ve identified it’s a technically a fruit, and starchy vegetable and a carb, let’s take a look at the. nutrition facts.
One cup of cooked pumpkin provides the following:
- 49 calories
- 0g fat
- 12g carbohydrates
- 3 g fiber
- 2 g protein
It also provides a variety of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium. And it’s also nearly 90% water.
In other words, pumpkin is a low calorie, high fiber food that provides numerous vitamins and minerals.
Pumpkin health benefits
By now you’ve probably guessed that pumpkin has some pretty good health benefits. Well, if you did you’d be right.
It’s an excellent source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that gives fruits and vegetables those bright colors. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A. Vitamin A is involved with immune function, vision reproduction and cellular communication.
Research has shown consuming foods high in beta-carotene can decrease the risk for macular degeneration and promote healthy skin. It can help reduce the risk of throat , stomach, and pancreas cancer. Pumpkin contains a good amount of potassium which can provide protection against heart disease and help regulate blood pressure.
And since it’s is a low calorie, high fiber food it’s a weightloss-friendly food. Yup, pumpkin is high in fiber. Did you know fiber can help you lose weight? Not only that, fiber supports good gut function and helps regulate blood sugars.
How to cook pumpkin
It’s fairly easy to cook a whole pumpkin at home. You’ll want to first choose the right type such as pie pumpkin or sugar pumpkin. Depending on where you live, sometimes they are also called Cinderella, Lumina, or peanut pumpkins.
No matter which name you find them, they’re not the pumpkins that you carve faces which are decorative pumpkins.
First, wash it to remove any lingering dirt and trim off the stem. Cut the in half, scrape all the seeds and pulp from the inside. Don’t throw away those seeds! You can roast them and keep on hand as a tasty snack.
Now you can either steam it or roast it. You may want to cut into smaller pieces if you decide to steam it. If steaming, it’ll take about 15-20 minutes and if you’re roasting about 35-45 minutes at 400 F. You’ll know it’s cooked when a knife can easily pierce through the flesh.
Once cooked, scoop the flesh away from the rind. You can use the flesh as is and or you can puree in a blender or food processor.
How to eat pumpkin
It hardly feels like Americans need a lesson in how to eat pumpkin. it seems it’s no holds barred when it comes to pumpkin flavor. But to truly reap in the health benefits, try to steer clear of overindulging in pumpkin pie, ice cream, or even lattes. In case you’re unsure of how to eat it, here are some healthier ideas that don’t include pie or lattes:
- Combine with plain Greek yogurt and cinnamon
- Add to your smoothie
- Mix into your oatmeal
- Stir into mashed potatoes
- Make soup
Pumpkin is a popular flavor in the fall season. It congers up warm memories and feelings that make us feel happy. Not only that, it’s a nutritional powerhouse that provides a lot of health benefits
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