What is your first thought when you think of an orange fruit with smooth, slightly ribbed skin?
You can only answer once, and whatever your answer is I believe it’s correct.
Pumpkins are one of the widely grown fruits that are incredibly rich in vital nutrients, and it is one of the most popular field crop cultivated around the world.
Do you know why I love pumpkins?
When I think of pumpkins, I always think of a happy time I spend with my family and friends. Pumpkins are great get-together food. When I think of pumpkins, I think of Halloween Thanksgiving, a rich flavor and taste of pumpkins pie. With pumpkins come a perfect warm autumn sun and many’s favorite treats.
All in all, pumpkins have everything our body needs although they are often overlooked as an excellent source of essential nutrients. That’s why I have decided to write a complete guide to pumpkins’ health benefits and pumpkin varieties.
What are pumpkins?
Yes, this is an interesting question. Although pumpkins are thought to be vegetables due to various reasons, they are in fact fruits as they contain seeds. A pumpkin is a cultivator of a squash plant, but in some countries and regions, all squash plants are referred to as pumpkins.
Pumpkins are most commonly cultivated from Cucurbita pepo, but there are more species that are derived from other plants, Cucurbita maxima and Cucurbita moschata. They belong to the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae, and five species are grown worldwide known as squash or pumpkins.
What do we know about pumpkins?
Pumpkin’s old relatives came in all shapes, sizes and colors and were eaten around 5,500 BC. The oldest evidence was found in Mexico which is the pumpkin-related seeds that date between 7000 and 5500 BC.
Native Americans cherished pumpkins for many reasons one of which is their long storage life and nutritional benefits. However, it’s interesting that they had only eaten the seeds, because the flesh was bitter, according to archaeologists. Later, when they started to cultivate gourds differently, they enjoyed the pumpkin’s flesh which became the favorite winter food.
Native Americans used pumpkins primarily as a food source, in fact, pumpkins were the primary food during long cold winters, even adding blossoms to stews. But they saw many different ways pumpkins can be useful to their household. They used pumpkins seeds as medicine and used dried pumpkin shells as bowls and containers to store seeds, beans and grain.
The variations of squash and pumpkins were cultivated along rivers, and creek banks with maize, sunflowers and beans and then they started to roast, bake, boil and dry this versatile fruit.
But the old crop has little in common with the pumpkin we know today.
The pumpkin’s ancestor is now replaced with the common orange pumpkin varieties. Moreover, many subspecies and varieties are cultivated today; we can find more than 40 varieties.
Short and tall, round and flat, huge and tiny, green, yellow, red, white, blue and even multi-colored striped pumpkins.
Regardless of their exterior, all pumpkins are edible, although not all are palatable and tasty so many are great ornaments and decoration.
Pepõn (Greek) or a large melon is how pumpkins were first called. It was not until the 17th century that we first heard of a word pumpkin. This fruit has been cultivated in North America for over 5,000 years when in the 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier reported finding gross melons in the St. Lawrence region of North America.
It is believed that the first time the word pumpkin was mentioned was in the Cinderella fairytale.
What kind of pumpkins can we find?
Pumpkins are usually categorized as winter and summer pumpkins.
Several squash species within the genus Cucurbita are winter squashes, and they have a thick, tough shells and sweet, creamy flesh. Some varieties are available year-round but mostly eaten in fall and winter. If they are stored in a cool, dark place that has a good air circulation, they have a long storage life.
Some popular winter varieties Blue Hokkaido Pumpkin, Cheese Pumpkins, Red Kuri Pumpkins, Sugar Pie Pumpkins, White Pumpkins and Rouge Vif d’Etampes Pumpkins.
Summer squashes are harvested before the rind hardens, and the fruit matures, which is why they have a thin skin, which is edible, and a short storage life. Moreover, all parts of the summer squash are edible. They are members of the Cucurbitaceae family and come in different varieties, with a distinct shape, color and size. These succulent plants are mostly the varieties of Cucurbita pepo, and the famous are green and yellow zucchini.
Many different pumpkin varieties that are grown on six continents and each has its own unique shape, color and flavor. From the big baby pumpkins that weigh no more than 3 pounds to large varieties that can weigh up to 100 pounds, we can enjoy the delicious taste of more than 40 varieties.
To better understand how the difference between the many varieties, it’s best to explain their four main species.
Cucurbita Pepo has been domesticated for thousands of years, traditionally used for baking and carving. These species are native to Mexico and the USA, and the source of a significant number of pumpkin varieties we love. Pepo species are recognized by their deep or bright orange skin.
Cucurbita maxima species includes some of the largest varieties. They have a spongy-like stem, and their seeds can be white, brown or tan. Traditional varieties include Pink Banana, Buttercup, Hubbard and Turban.
Cucurbita moschata include the “cheese” pumpkins varieties mostly used for commercially canned pumpkins. They have a tan skin, and their flesh is usually orange and sweet. Examples include the Cushaw Green and Gold and Butternut.
Cucurbita argyrosperma species are famous for its seeds that are used to yield an edible oil with a pleasant nutty flavor. Flowers, young stems and both unripe and ripe fruit of these species are consumed. Ripe fruits are used for pies or as feed for livestock and poultry.