Pumpkins come in many different colors and shapes. Butternut squash, Hokkaido pumpkins, patty pan pumpkins, and muscat squash (muscat pumpkin) are among the most popular edible pumpkins. While many pumpkin varieties can be eaten raw, be careful to avoid bitter pumpkins. These should not be eaten either raw or cooked because they contain toxic bitter compounds called cucurbitacins.
Depending on the variety, a pumpkin can taste nutty, sweet, sour, or spicy. Pumpkins can be used to prepare popular fall dishes.
A few ideas: Pumpkin recipes are not limited to cooked pumpkin in pumpkin soups or pumpkin baked goods. Certain pumpkin varieties are just as tasty raw. Pumpkin is delicious in colorful fall salads, smoothies, or refreshing cold soups.
Muscat pumpkin (muscat squash) is particularly fragrant and therefore ideal for juice. This type of pumpkin is large and flat with a dark green or light brown rind. When ripe, the flesh and scent of muscat pumpkin is reminiscent of sweet honeydew melon.
Alternatively, you can use the smaller Hokkaido pumpkin, which has an edible rind. A pumpkin smoothie is tasty with carrot, ginger, and cinnamon.
Pumpkin puree lends itself well as a dip or a spread, and it can be seasoned with pepper, salt, and herbs such as dill or coriander. The acidity of balsamic vinegar, lemon, and lime also go particularly well with pumpkin spread. A spoonful of honey rounds off the fruity taste.
Pureed pumpkin also makes a delicious pesto. Combine pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, garlic, oil, and some salt and pepper. If necessary, you can briefly braise the pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, and garlic first. The pesto will last at least 1–2 weeks in the refrigerator in a jar with a screw-top lid.
You can prepare a raw salad with pumpkin quickly. The best choice for this is the fragrant Hokkaido pumpkin, which has an aroma that develops best when the vegetable is grated as finely as possible. You can add any number of things to the salad, including apple and a vinaigrette dressing of fresh chile, vinegar, and garlic. A little sugar, salt, and pepper flesh out the flavors of the salad.
Summer pumpkin varieties are especially tasty in combination with coconut, as in this pumpkin salad.
Fresh pumpkins can be found in all major grocery stores and health food shops, such as Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (United States); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, and Holland & Barret (Great Britain); Metro, Extra Foods, and Goodness Me (Canada); and Coles, Woolworths, and Harris Farm (Australia). Winter pumpkin and squash varieties are most plentiful and least expensive in October and November in the northern hemisphere, though you can find them from September through December. Summer varieties, such as patty pan pumpkins, spaghetti squash, and zucchini, are available almost year-round after their harvest in summer.
When you buy pumpkins, pay attention to how ripe they are. Fully ripe pumpkins have the best aroma. Ripeness can be determined by examining the color and size of the vegetable. The rind becomes darker as the pumpkin ripens, and can be smooth or nubby, but it should not show any cracks. Smaller specimens usually have less fibrous flesh.
If the pumpkin sounds hollow when tapped, it is a good sign, especially when the stem is slightly dried out but intact. The pumpkin should be ripe in that case. Don’t buy a pumpkin without a stem because a missing stem can allow bacteria to infiltrate the rind and cause the pumpkin to rot.
Pumpkins are easy to cultivate in temperate zones. The seeds can be sown and sprouted in a greenhouse from April to mid-May. Plant the seedlings from 1.5 m x 0.75 m to 1 m apart according to the variety. Pumpkins require a fair amount of water, but they are easy to grow if you water them sufficiently.
The stem must remain on a pumpkin during storage. The pumpkin will then last for months in a cool and dry environment. The best places to store pumpkins are your refrigerator vegetable drawer or in a cool, dry basement or cellar. It is important that the pumpkins not touch each other during storage; otherwise, they quickly begin to rot. Ideally, the pumpkins would be stored on a bed of straw or excelsior wood fiber.
Wrap pumpkins that have been cut in cling film and store them in the refrigerator for about three to four days. Pumpkin flesh freezes well, but freezing also diminishes the quality of the flesh so that it is better suited to recipes requiring cooking or to chutney. The quality of frozen pumpkin flesh is somewhat improved when you blanch the flesh in salted boiling water for one to two minutes before freezing.
The pumpkin owes its orange color to the beta-carotene, a member of the carotenoid family, that it contains. This compound is known as provitamin A and is transformed by our bodies into vitamin A.
Alpha- und beta-carotene are among the most important carotenoids that protect against oxidative stress and cancer. Beta-carotene has the highest rate of conversion to vitamin A of the approximately 10 % of carotenoids that are considered provitamin A carotenoids. The rate of absorption of carotinoids in general is between 2 and 50 %.2
In addition to beta-carotene, the yellow-orange carotenoids zeaxanthin (not zeaxanthan) and lutein are also found in pumpkins. Zeaxanthin is always accompanied by its isomer lutein. High quantities of these carotenoids, however, are found in dark green leafy vegetables such as kale (8200 µg/100 g) and spinach (12200 µg/100 g) rather than in pumpkin. In butternut squash, the carotenoid content is even lower (290 µg/100 g).1
Zeaxanthin und lutein are present as pigments in the retina, especially in the pigmented area near the center called the macula (macula lutea), where they act as a filter to protect the retina from intense light. Zeaxanthin is gaining increasing interest from the medical community because it may protect against certain types of macular degeneration, especially age-related macular degeneration (AMD or ARMD). This protection stems from the antioxidant effects of the carotenoid, which contains oxygen. In plants, zeaxanthin also plays an important role in converting light into heat and therefore protects plants from damage caused by high-intensity light exposure.
It is also worth noting that pumpkin contains vitamin C, potassium, folate, and certain B vitamins, and that it is low in calories.1 Because of its high fiber content, pumpkin is also very satisfying.
While pumpkins do not often taste bitter, those that do should be disposed of and not consumed. The bitter taste is the result of toxic bitter compounds known as cucurbitacins, which attack the stomach and intestinal mucosa. Since cucurbitacins are heat-resistant and almost completely water-insoluble, they remain in the pumpkin flesh during cooking.
Pumpkins that are crossbred from ornamental and edible pumpkins may contain cucurbitacins. Even after they have been cultivated out of a pumpkin variety, these toxic compounds can appear again suddenly as the result of back mutations. Environmental stressors, such as heat, temperature fluctuations, moisture fluctuations, and fungal infections in moist plants, as well as overripening and improper storage can sometimes lead to an increased cucurbitacin content in pumpkins, zucchini, melons, and cucumbers.
The bitter taste of cucurbitacins is even perceptible in very low concentrations. (The threshold for tasting the compounds is 10−6 mol/L). The compounds also have strong laxative, diuretic, antihypertensive, and antirheumatic effects.
Given their alkaline minerals and high fiber content, pumpkin has digestive and stomach-soothing properties. The carotenoids and vitamin C it contains have antioxidant effects and can help strengthen the immune system and protect against cancer. Thanks to its high potassium and low sodium content, regular pumpkin consumption (as part of a healthy nutrition program) can lower blood pressure and help with cardiovascular diseases.5 Pumpkin contains many other secondary phytonutrients such as alkaloids, other flavonoids, and monounsaturated fatty acids, which are said to have antioxidant effects as well as anti-inflammatory and antidiabetic effects.4
Pumpkin seed oil and pumpkin seeds, as well as medicines made from them, are traditionally used to strengthen bladder function in cases of incontinence. These pumpkin products can also help to soothe, but not heal, an overactive bladder and urinary complaints caused by a benign enlarged prostate.3
Cucurbita pepo, which includes varieties of winter squash and pumpkin, was selected as the medicinal plant of the year (Arzneipflanze des Jahres) by the University of Würzburg in 2005 .
The locations used for pumpkin cultivation range from hot dry areas to cool cloud forests. Most types of pumpkin, however, grow in hot lowland areas with pronounced rainy and dry seasons. Pumpkins require high levels of sunlight and are sensitive to frost.
The custom of putting out pumpkins for Halloween comes from Ireland. According to the legend, there was once a villain named Jack Oldfield who lived in Ireland. On the night before All Saints’ Day, he caught the Devil with a trick and was only willing to set him free if the Devil first promised to release his soul. When Jack died, he did not go to Heaven because of his misdeeds. Hell, however, also refused to accept him as the Devil had given his word not to take Jack’s soul, so the Devil sent Jack back where he had come from. The Devil mercifully gave him a glowing coal out of the fires of Hell so that he would be able to walk through the darkness. Jack put the coal in a hollowed-out turnip he had with him, which means that the origin of the illuminated pumpkin was actually an illuminated turnip. Because pumpkins were more readily available in the United States, pumpkins were used instead of turnips and have since been known as jack-o’-lanterns. Grimacing faces are carved in the pumpkins, and light up houses and yards for Halloween. This was originally intended to scare away evil spirits and the Devil.
The original form of the pumpkin (Curbita pepo), the domesticated form of the garden pumpkin, dates back to the inhabitances of the Guilá Naquitz cave in the province of Oaxaca (not Oxaca), Mexico, about 10'000 years ago. Further finds come from Tikal (2000 BCE to 850 CE) and Peru (3000 BCE). The musk pumpkin was domesticated in Central America, and the squash pumpkin in South America. Cultivation of pumpkins is documented in India, Java, Angola, and Japan in the nineteenth century.
It is assumed that humans originally used the nutritious seeds because they are free of bitter compounds, while the wild pumpkin varieties all produce bitter fruits. Selecting non-bitter forms has enabled us to use pumpkins as vegetables.
There are five pumpkin species in cultivation today: Japanese pie pumpkins (Cucurbita argyrosperma), fig-leaf gourds or pumpkins (Cucurbita ficifolia), squash pumpkins (Cucurbita maxima), musk pumpkins (Cucurbita moschata) und garden pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo). Pumpkins thrive in everything from the coastal dune sand to clay lowland or rocky soils, but they need a great deal of sunlight.
The five types of pumpkin used in horticulture are divided into winter and summer pumpkins, depending on when they are harvested. Most summer pumpkins belong to the garden pumpkin species, which has many varieties. Examples of these are Halloween pumpkins, spaghetti squash, zucchini, patty pan squash, Rondini pumpkins, styrian oil pumpkins, as well as inedible ornamental pumpkins. The definition of pumpkin varieties and their classification into summer and winter pumpkins, however, does not always correspond to established standards. Many German language sources, for example, list spaghetti squash as summer pumpkins, which English-language articles designate as winter pumpkins.
Wikipedia: The word pumpkin originates from the word pepon (πέπων), which is Greek for “large melon,” something round and large. The French adapted this word to pompon, which the British changed to pumpion and to the later American colonists became known as pumpkin.The term pumpkin has no agreed upon botanical or scientific meaning, and is used interchangeably with “squash” and “winter squash.” In North America and the United Kingdom, pumpkin traditionally refers to only certain round orange varieties of winter squash, predominantly derived from Cucurbita pepo, while in Australian English, pumpkin can refer to winter squash of any appearance.6