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What is your first thought when you think of 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 excellent 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 shell 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 with 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 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.
Four main species
Many different pumpkin varieties are grown on six continents and each has its 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 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 include 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 includes the “cheese” pumpkins varieties mostly used for commercially canned pumpkins. They have 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.
How to recognize certain pumpkin varieties?
If you are new to the world of this versatile fruit, you will find the list more than useful because you will learn how to recognize certain varieties and how to use them.
Jack-Be-Little pumpkins are bright orange, smooth pumpkins with a very sweet flesh that can fit in the palm of your hand. How amazing, right? They are usually around three inches across and up to two inches high. These pumpkins can be used for cooking, and it’s very convenient to estimate how many you need for a pie. But, you can see them as a decoration, especially during Halloween.
Baby Boo is small and round white pumpkins, flattened on top, with ridges, only three inches wide, which makes them similar in both shape and size to Jack-Be-Little pumpkins. If they are grown in a place with a lot of bright sunlight, their ride can turn yellow. As JBL, kids love them, but they are many people favorites.
Baby Bear pumpkins are dark orange, usually around 600g – 1kg in weight. They are perfect for pies and seeds are great for roasting. If you keep them in a cold and dark place, they can last up to 100 days. The seeds are an excellent source of nutrients when roasted. You can use it in stews, soups and chili.
Baby Pam Sugar Pie pumpkin is one of the favorite varieties for baking, with the rich orange ride and sweet and dry (starchy) flesh. The pumpkin is round and uniform in size, and thus attractive for carving and decoration. If they are left longer, the starchy flesh can convert to water and sugar, which is even more perfect for making delicious pies.
Wee Be Little pumpkins have a great round shape. They grow three inches in diameter and weigh about a pound. You can use them for carving or painting, but they are also tasty.
Jarrahdale pumpkins are winter pumpkins with a blue-gray colored skin and distinct ribs. They can grow from 6 to 120 pounds and have a golden-orange flesh that is very sweet. People love them for their melon-like aroma. Jarrahdale pumpkins are perfect for baking, cooking and as ornaments. Good for pies, stews and soups.
Sweet Sugar Pie is excellent for baking because of an exceptional flavor and a finely textured pulp, in fact, they are one of the sweetest varieties. You can recognize them for their smooth, orange skin and bright orange flesh. They are used for pies, cheesecakes, pancakes and flan. Cook them and add them to make chili and curries.
Cinderella pumpkins got the name as they resemble the pumpkin that Cinderella’s godmother transformed into a carriage. It is the variety that was cultivated by the Pilgrims. This unique French heirloom has thick, sweet flesh, and it’s ideal for pies.
Lumina pumpkins are of delicious flavor, and excellent for baking. They have a ghostly white exterior, but a sweet orange flesh. Because of their spooky effect, they are popular during Halloween.
Hokkaido pumpkins also called Uchiki Kuri, Baby Red Hubbard or Orange Hokkaido, taste similar to potato or roasted chestnuts. It is one of the smallest grown pumpkins that come from the Japanese island Hokkaido. Their flesh is orange, and the color of the skin is yellow with shades or dark orange. The most common type is Red Kuri pumpkins, known as Orange Hokkaido, which has a tear-dropped shape and a smooth flesh. They are very, very sweet.
Kakai pumpkins are sweet Japanese pumpkins recognized by their unusual coloring, which is orange with dark green ribs and distinct taste. The real treat of Kakai pumpkins are the seeds, hull-less and dark green.
Marina di Chioggia, known as Chioggia Sea pumpkin, comes from the Italian seaside village Chioggia. It is one of the turban type pumpkins with a dark blue, green color and orange flesh. Its flesh is dense, dry and sweet which makes it excellent for pies and baking.
Fairytail is a pumpkin from France that is perfect for pies. It has a thick, soft and vibrant orange flesh that is perfect for roasting, grilling, deserts, and excellent when eaten fresh. The correct name of this pumpkin is Musque De Provence, a member of the species Cucurbita moschata, which is known for its pleasant flavor and its unique shape and coloring.
New England Pie pumpkin is a relatively small pumpkin with dry, stingless flesh. It is not quite as delicious as Baby Pam, but it has a better texture. They are easy to handle and grow because they are small. It’s interesting that the New England Pie pumpkin is a direct decedent of squash that was once eaten green. Compared to their winter counterparts, these pumpkins are a bit watery.
Cushaw Green and Gold pumpkins come in different colors, although usually cream with gold or green stripes. The best thing about these varieties is their light golden flesh that has a mildly sweet taste but rich in vitamin C.
Yes, I know I was to write a detailed guide about pumpkin varieties and their health benefits. However, pumpkins and squashes are from the same family and have mostly the same health benefits, though certain fruits differ in taste. Some even use the word pumpkin when they talk about squashes.
Nevertheless, I suggest you try these squashes as they have excellent taste and various benefits.
Spaghetti Squash known as vegetable spaghetti is a group of Cucurbita pepo subspecies that are exceptionally high in beta carotene content. Their flesh is bright yellow or orange with many large seeds in the center. These subspecies are an excellent substitute for pasta; you can serve them with sauce if you like. The most delicious variety is Small Wonder Spaghetti with a bit darker flesh and a mild buttery taste, but high in vitamin A. These are perfect for a family meal and perfect for storage.
Lemon (cucumber) squash is an ancient heirloom that looks like a lemon with prickles. They are mild and sweet. The larger they are, the sweeter their flesh is. You can eat them like apples, snack as a dessert.
Butternut pumpkins are large-sized, pear-shaped pumpkins with a long and thick neck. However, they can vary in shape and size. These pumpkins have the longest storage potential of all varieties. The best part is that the longer they are stored, the sweeter they are (especially after three months). You can enjoy their orange flesh and a unique flavor and smooth texture. The seeds are packed with nutrients with 35-40% oil and 30% protein. If you want to add nutrients to your winter vegetable salad, add fresh raw cubes of butternut pumpkins.
Lakota pear-shaped pumpkins are exceedingly rare. These were very popular among the Lakota Sioux Indians. They have bright orange flesh, somewhat neutral in flavor. Their skin has beautiful dark green markings. Today they are used in salads or slaw, but also in chili. You can enjoy them for a long time as they are ideal for storage.
Pink Banana is one of the most versatile squashes, delicious food for the pie. They are cylindrical in shape and can grow up to three feet in length, weighing up to thirty-five pounds, although the average is around ten pounds. Pink banana squash has a flesh that is sweeter than a regular pumpkin. The flesh is orange, thick, dense and meaty, with a few small seeds. Pink banana is soft, although if you can find blue or green varieties, choose them for your pie, they are even sweeter and of a superior flavor. Regardless of the color, they are rich in vitamins A, C, and some of the B vitamins, as well as calcium, iron and fiber.
Acorn squash is usually green, but new varieties are white (Table Queen) or the normal pumpkin color (Golden Acorn). They have an orange-yellow flesh and sweet, nutty taste. Acorn squash is a nutrient-dense squash, rich in dietary fiber, vitamins C, A, and B, and the minerals magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, copper and calcium.
Health properties of pumpkin seeds
Now let’s talk about the benefits of pumpkin seeds.
Raw darkly colored or bright green pumpkin seeds are truly a gift from nature. For quite some time we know that they are an excellent source of minerals. In addition to minerals, they are rich in protein and fiber, but low in sugar; they are an amazing food source that can prevent many health ailments and conditions, and enhance our immune system.
Let’s see what nutrients pumpkin seeds offer to our body.
Pumpkin seeds provide 16 percent of your daily needs and that just in 1/4 a cup. If you can, choose organic pumpkin seeds as they offer, even more, around 40 percent. Although legumes provide rich iron content, pumpkin is great source of you are on a plant-based diet. Iron is essential for our immune system. Consuming pumpkin seeds is the easiest way to prevent iron deficiency.
Pumpkin seeds contain 23 percent of your daily needs in just 1/4 cup serving. Being such a good source of zinc, eating pumpkin seeds can help with hormone production and keep a healthy immune system. Additionally, they are useful for maintaining a healthy metabolism.
Zinc deficiency is associated with chronic fatigue, increased risks of colds and flu, learning and attention problems and depression. here’s also a strong association between fracture risk and dietary intake of zinc.
Magnesium is a critical mineral, and pumpkin seeds are some of its richest sources. They offer 48 percent of our daily needs. This mineral participates in numerous important functions in the body – from psychological to physical. It’s necessary for the creation of the energy molecules of the body, RNA and DNA synthesis, bone and tooth formation, and health. It has been shown that magnesium benefits blood pressure and help prevent heart attack, strokes and cardiac arrest.
The best is that in a small serving of pumpkin seeds you get almost half of what you need on a daily basis. The higher intake of magnesium correlates with greater bone mineral density, researchers at the University of Tennessee concluded.
Pumpkin seeds have the highest manganese content, in every 100 grams of seeds, there are 4.543 milligrams, which is 198 percent of our daily needs. This mineral is important because ith helps to develop resistance against infections and protects against harmful free radicals. The mineral acts as a coenzyme, assisting the metabolic activity. It plays a crucial role in the formation of connective tissues and the regulation of blood sugar level.
We need it to help us balance the levels of calcium, and help fight calcium deficiency, and phosphorus
Manganese is naturally occurring in our bodies, but in very small amounts, thus we need to find a way to get the daily intake we need.
Whole pumpkin seed provides 5.2 grams of fiber in a single serving (28-gram) if you are eating shells. One ounce of pumpkin seed kernels only contains 1.8 grams of fiber. According to Harvard School of Public Health, adults need to consume between 20 and 30 grams of fiber daily, and 1-ounce of serving can provide from 17 to 6 percent of the daily needs (kernels contain 6 to 9 percent).
Dietary fiber helps with blood sugar regulation and promotes good digestive health. Diets high in fiber are associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity. Eating foods rich in fiber may decrease the risk of conditions such as hemorrhoids and gastrointestinal disease.
100 grams of pumpkin seeds contain 19 grams of protein, which is 38 percent of our daily needs. We need protein for our muscles, the brain, skin and hair, and our body in general. Protein triggers neurotransmitters in our brain and improves our mood, lowers blood sugar, help with concentration and alertness.
Plant protein is equally important for our body as the animal-based protein, contrary to popular belief. If you think that only protein from red meat can help with brain focus, energy, strength and bone health, you are wrong. Pumpkin seeds protein is of great importance for our body because we need it to repair and sustain muscle functions.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of omega-three fatty acids and monounsaturated fats. Together, they protect our heart, prevent inflammation, and help to manage a body’s weight. Healthy fats will ensure good heart health and will contribute to balance the blood sugar. They are necessary for our health, and our body cannot make them.
Tryptophan (also called L-tryprophan) is an amino acid abundant in pumpkin seeds that promote and improves sleep. It acts as a natural mood regulator as it can produce hormones and keep them in balance. Eating food rich in tryptophan provides natural calming effects and also help burn more weight because it reduces food cravings and stimulates the growth hormone.
In a study published in the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology researchers concluded that consuming tryptophan-rich food alleviates anxiety. It is because tryptophan is converted to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that enhances mood and promotes well-being in the brain with the help of zinc.
Around 1 gram of tryptophan daily is enough to improve your sleep and if you eat 200 grams of pumpkin seeds, you will get the necessary daily dose.
The benefits of pumpkin seed?
Apart from the health advantages of that are directly the result of the nutrients pumpkin seed contain, we need to explain how these nutrients all together benefit our organism.
Anti-inflammatory and alkalizing health benefits
As all green foods, raw, green pumpkin seeds contain a high amount of natural chlorophyll. The compound is responsible for alkalizing and cleansing the body. Alkalizing the blood, chlorophyll detoxifying the body and thus preventing inflammation that can occur from an acidic balance. Furthermore, chlorophyll is the reason behind the proper pH balance of our body. Chlorophyll rich food helps with healthy sleep as well.
Pumpkin seeds are packed with nutrients, and not just any nutrient, but essential ones. The mutual power of minerals, essential acids, and vitamins is providing our body with the ultimate protection from bacteria and microbes. Besides providing antibacterial benefits, pumpkins seeds are known for their antifungal and antiviral properties. The seeds contain unique proteins called the lignans (and pinoresinol, medioresinol, and lariciresinol) that have antimicrobial properties, the research explains. The seeds are also shown to be able to prevent yeast infections.
Pumpkin seeds contain vitamin E and its variety forms such as alpha-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol, delta-tocopherol, alpha-tocomonoenol, and gamma-tocomonoenol, antioxidant minerals zinc and manganese, phenolic antioxidants, and the lignans. The diverse mixtures of these powerful antioxidants provide great protective properties.
Health benefits of pumpkin flesh
The only reason I have decided to write separately about pumpkin seeds benefits is that I know there are people who simply don’t enjoy eating not only pumpkin seeds but any seeds at all. Although pumpkin seeds are usually eaten dried, many also decide to create a protein-rich powder and use it as a supplement.
If you do not belong to either of the group, what can you do? You can consume pumpkin sed oil or still experience many health benefits from the great pumpkin fruit if you enjoy eating pies.
Beta-carotene in pumpkin flesh for heart and optimal health
Along with carrot, pumpkin is one of the best sources of beta-carotene, a strong antioxidant that gives orange fruits and vegetables their color. In our body, beta-carotene is converted in Vitamin A. When we eat food rich in beta-carotene; we are in the first place protecting our vision.
A single cup of pumpkin contains more than 200 percent of recommended daily intake of vitamin A. Together with vitamin C and E, beta-carotene, that is vitamin A, can help prevent degenerative damage, protect against asthma and heart disease, and delay body degeneration.
According to researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health Researchers, there’s a positive relationship between a diet rich in beta-carotene and a reduction in the occurrence of prostate cancer.
Pumpkins are also a great food for pregnant women. It seems that beta-carotene is essential for hormone synthesis and thus necessary during pregnancy.
Because pumpkins are rich in dietary fiber, they are the food that can keep you feeling fuller for longer, which means we can say that pumpkins can improve digestion, and thus contribute to weight loss.
They are overall good for the digestive system.
Health benefits of pumpkin seed oil
Rich in vitamin E, omega 3- and 6-fatty acids, zinc, and powerful antioxidants, the pumpkin seed oil is a great alternative for people who do not want to consume pumpkin seeds. The same way the seeds have superpowers that help our body and mind, the same way pumpkin seed oils is great for our overall health.
Due to the high content of essential nutrients, pumpkin seed oil protects our skin because it can ward off harmful free radicals, maintain moisture and a youthful appearance. Zinc and vitamin E in oil help improve skin tone and fight acne.
In another study, researchers showed that pumpkin seed oil could help relieve certain symptoms of menopause like joint pain, headaches and hot flashes. The women who were taking the pumpkin seed oils had seen an increase in levels of good cholesterol.
What do you think? Are pumpkins going to be a must in your diet?
The flesh from the pumpkins can be used for soups, muffins, bread, sweets and pretty much anything you can imagine.
Why wouldn’t you want to include this fabulous fruit in your diet?
Share with us your favorite pumpkin pie recipe.
Images credit: depositphotos.com
Last article update: 9/25/2019