Pumpkin fruit is one of the widely grown vegetables incredibly rich in vital antioxidants, and vitamins. Though this humble backyard vegetable is less in calories, nonetheless, it carries vitamin A, and flavonoid poly-phenolic antioxidants such as lutein, xanthin, and carotenes in abundance.
Pumpkin is a fast-growing vine that creeps along the surface in a similar fashion like that of other Cucurbitaceae family vegetables and fruits such as cucumber, squash, cantaloupes…etc. It is one of the most popular field crops cultivated around the world, including in the USA at commercial scale for its fruit, and seeds.
Pumpkins vary greatly in shape, size and colors. Giant pumpkins generally weigh 4–6 kg with the largest capable of reaching a weight of over 25 kg. Golden-nugget pumpkins are flat, smaller and feature sweet creamy orange color flesh.
Pumpkins, in general, feature orange or yellow outer skin color; however, some varieties can exhibit dark to pale green, brown, white, red and gray. Their color characteristics is largely influenced by yellow-orange pigments in their skin and pulp. Its thick rind is smooth with light, vertical ribs.
In structure, the fruit features golden-yellow to orange flesh depending up on the poly-phenolic pigments in it. The fruit has a hollow center, with numerous small, off-white colored seeds interspersed in a net like structure. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of protein, minerals, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Health Benefits of Pumpkin
- It is one of the very low calorie vegetables. 100 g fruit provides just 26 calories and contains no saturated fats or cholesterol; however, it is rich in dietary fiber, anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins. The vegetable is one of the food items recommended by dieticians in cholesterol controlling and weight reduction programs.
- Pumpkin is a storehouse of many anti-oxidant vitamins such as vitamin-A, vitamin-C and vitamin-E.
- At 7384 mg per 100 g, it is one of the vegetables in the Cucurbitaceae family featuring highest levels of vitamin-A, providing about 246% of RDA. Vitamin A is a powerful natural anti-oxidant and is required by the body for maintaining the integrity of skin and mucusa. It is also an essential vitamin for good visual sight. Research studies suggest that natural foods rich in vitamin A may help human body protect against lung and oral cavity cancers.
- It is also an excellent source of many natural poly-phenolic flavonoid compounds such as a, ß carotenes, cryptoxanthin, lutein and zea-xanthin. Carotenes convert into vitamin A inside the body.
- Zea-xanthin is a natural anti-oxidant which has UV (ultra-violet) rays filtering actions in the macula lutea in retina of the eyes. Thus, it may offer protection from “age-related macular disease” (ARMD) in the elderly.
- The fruit is a good source of B-complex group of vitamins like folates, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin and pantothenic acid.
- It is also rich source of minerals like copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus.
- Pumpkin seeds indeed are an excellent source of dietary fiber and mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which are good for heart health. In addition, the seeds are concentrated sources of protein, minerals and health-benefiting vitamins. For instance, 100 g of pumpkin seeds provide 559 calories, 30 g of protein, 110% RDA of iron, 4987 mg of niacin (31% RDA), selenium (17% of RDA), zinc (71%) etc., but no cholesterol. Further, the seeds are an excellent source of health promoting amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is converted to GABA in the brain.
Selection and Storage
Pumpkins can be readily available in the market year around. Buy completely developed, whole pumpkin fruit instead of its sections. Look for mature fruit that features fine woody note on tapping, heavy in hand and stout stem. Avoid the one with wrinkled surface, cuts and bruises.
Once at home, ripe, mature pumpkin may be stored for many weeks to come under cool, well-ventilated place at room temperature. However, cut sections should be placed inside the refrigerator where it can keep well for a few days.
Preparation and Serving Methods
Some hybrid varieties are usually subjected to insecticide powder or spray. Therefore, wash them thoroughly in running water in order to remove dirt, soil and any residual insecticides/fungicides.
Cut the stem end and slice the whole fruit into two equal halves. Remove central net like structure and set aside seeds. Then cut the flesh into desired sizes. In general, small cubes are preferred in cooking preparations.
Almost all the parts of the pumpkin plant; fruit, leaves, flowers and seeds, are edible.
Here are some serving tips:
- Pumpkin can be used in variety of delicious recipes either baked, stew- fried; however, it is eaten best after steam-cooking in order to get maximum nutrients. In China, young tender, pumpkin leaves consumed as cooked greens or in soups.
- In the Indian subcontinent where it is popular as “kaddu or sitaphal”, pumpkin is used in the preparation of “sabzee”, sweet dishes (halwa), desserts, soups, curries,…etc.
- The fruit is used in the preparations of pies, pancakes, custard, ravioli…etc in Europe and USA.
- Golden nugget pumpkins are used to make wonderful soufflés, stuffing, soups…etc.
- Roasted Pumpkin seeds (Pepita) can be eaten as snacks.