This large, orange fruit (yes – fruit!) is typically associated with autumn and the Halloween and Thanksgiving holidays. Pumpkins always remind me of cooler temperatures, changing leaves, and time with family and friends. Not only are pumpkins a fall staple in the United States, but they are also full of nutrients and are being used as flavoring in more and more food products. Read more to find out how pumpkins are harvested and how you can use them in some of your favorite dishes this season!
Pumpkins are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes gourds, cantaloupes, and squashes. Pumpkins are native to Central America and were originally cultivated in Mexico. The stems, leaves, and roots of the pumpkin are considered vegetables while the pumpkin itself comes from a flower; therefore it is technically a fruit. The parts of a pumpkin from inside to outside are: seeds, fibrous strands, pulp, and rind. The rind of the pumpkin has vertical ribs and an orange coloring due to the high amount of carotenoid compounds. Different pumpkin cultivars vary greatly in size (4 oz. to 200 lbs.) and color (green, yellow, red, white, and blue). Many cultures have pumpkin festivals and competitions to see who can grow the largest Cucurbita maxima, also known as the “Giant pumpkin” variation.
Pumpkins have a very long growing season of 75-100 frost-free days and are planted beginning late-May to early-July, depending on the location and temperature of the patch. The most important aspect of successfully growing pumpkins is maintaining a healthy vine. Vines are very delicate and are essential to growing a high-quality fruit. Pumpkins need lots of space to sprawl their vines in the full sun. Additionally, pumpkins require rich soil and a lot of water (1 inch per week). To grow bigger pumpkins, it is suggested to use compost mixed with water to water the fruits and to fertilize on a regular basis with high nitrogen fertilizer in the early stages before blooming, and high phosphorus fertilizer after blooming.
Pumpkin is a delicious superfood that contains powerful antioxidants, vitamins, and dietary compounds. These compounds have been shown to benefit the skin, immune system, and digestive tract. Pumpkin is a low-calorie food with just 49 calories per 1 cup, mashed serving. As seen in the Nutrition Facts to the right, one serving of pumpkin can also provide 3g (11% RDA) of fiber and 245% RDA of Vitamin A. Dietitians recommend pumpkin for weight reduction programs due to its low-cholesterol and high-fiber contents. Vitamin A is converted from alpha-carotene and beta-carotene located in the orange pulp of the pumpkin and can help aid against oxidative damage. Oxidative damage from UV rays and pollution can cause collagen and elastin in the skin to breakdown and show signs of age such as wrinkles and sagging skin. Additionally, one serving of mashed pumpkin contains 19% RDA of Vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that will also aid against oxidative damage that can lead to skin deterioration or even skin cancer. Pumpkin is rich in folate and niacin (B vitamins) that will act in the body to improve blood circulation and cell turnover. Increased blood flow will help the skin rejuvenate by stimulating cell growth.
The pumpkin seeds are rich with zinc, fiber, and monounsaturated fatty acids. In a 100g serving of pumpkin seeds, there is a 71% RDA of zinc and 30g protein. Zinc and dietary protein are needed to make DNA proteins for the body to maintain good health. Fiber and monounsaturated fatty acids are used to support the body’s digestive tract and heart. All in all, the pulp and seeds of pumpkins provide various benefits to the body.
How to Enjoy
The best time of year to purchase pumpkins is during the fall and winter months, although pumpkins may be available year-round in markets. It is important to look for pumpkins that are whole, mature, and hard with few blemishes and intact stems. Try to avoid picking pumpkins with soft spots and wrinkled surfaces. Whole pumpkins can be stored for many weeks at room temperature. To prepare, pumpkins should be cut long ways, along the ribs. Then, the pumpkin skin, fibers, and seeds may be discarded or stored for additional cooking. The pulp of the pumpkin can be cut or cubed and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Pumpkin can be used in a variety of different types of dishes such as pies, soups, pancakes, breads, and ravioli. Baking and stewing pumpkin is the most common method of cooking pumpkin, but the most nutritionally beneficial way of preserving the nutrients is by steaming. Roasting pumpkin seeds is a very popular method to create a quick, crunchy snack.
This recipe is a wonderful healthy variation of regular chili that will warm you up on a crisp, autumn day. Pumpkin chili that has a sweet, earthy taste and is sure to be a hit at the dinner table!
- 1½ lb. ground beef
- 1 medium sweet onion
- 1 red bell pepper
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 tbsp. chili powder
- 1 tbsp. dried oregano
- 1½ tsp. ground cumin
- 3 cups sweet pumpkin
- 1 can black beans
- 1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
- 1 can low-sodium beef broth
- 1 ¼ tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Fresh jalapenos (optional)
- Sour cream (optional)
- Cook beef in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat 8 minutes or until beef crumbles and is no longer pink. Remove with slotted spoon. Cook onion and next 2 ingredients in drippings for 7 minutes. Stir in chili powder and next 2 ingredients, cook for 1 minute. Stir in pumpkin and the next 5 ingredients.
- Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until pumpkin is tender. Stir in cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with jalapenos and sour cream.
About: At an early age I learned that I had a passion to learn about life sciences and the relationship between plants and humans. In college, I helped prepare and serve local-grown produce for market gardeners and market farmers. I graduated from Clemson in May 2016 with a B.S. degree in Food Science: Nutrition and Dietetics. Although I love learning about nutrition, I realized that it is more of an interest of mine, rather than a career path. Starting in August, I will be attending Clemson’s Accelerated Nursing Program. I would love to use my previous nutrition background to promote my patients to maintain a healthy living lifestyle. Through this blog, I hope to spark an interest in the farming community to learn more about the nutritional value of their products and to promote the benefits of buying fresh, delicious, and locally grown foods.
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- “Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Pumpkins.” Farmers Almanac. Web. 9 August 2016. Accessed from: http://www.almanac.com/plant/pumpkins
- “Pumpkin, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt Nutrition Facts and Calories.” SELF Nutrition Data. Web. 8 August 2016. Accessed from: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2601/2
- “Pumpkin Nutrition Facts.” Superfood Profiles. Web. 9 August 2016. Accessed from: http://superfoodprofiles.com/better-skin-pumpkin
- “Top 5 Skin Benefits of Pumpkin.” Nutrition and You. Web. 9 August 2016. Accessed from: http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/pumpkin.html
- “Pumpkin, Beef, and Black Bean Chili.” Country Living. Web. 8 August Accessed from: http://www.countryliving.com/food-drinks/recipes/a6184/pumpkin-beef-black-bean-chili-recipe-clx1014/