You know fall is here when everyone is sipping pumpkin-spiced lattes, eating pumpkin loaves and lighting pumpkin-scented candles. Frothy drinks aside, pumpkin is a nutritious, versatile and delightful food, and now is the best time to experiment. We’ve put together an easy guide so you can be the ultimate connoisseur of all things pumpkin!
The Nutritional Benefits of Pumpkin
Pumpkins are packed with an impressive roster of nutritional benefits. Their uniform orange color gives away their most prominent benefit — vitamin A. One cup of cooked pumpkin contains a whopping 14,100 IU of vitamin A, or 140 percent of the recommended daily intake, in the form of the antioxidant beta carotene.
Here’s how one cup of mashed, cooked pumpkin stacks up against a cup of boiled potatoes:
- 49 calories compared to 136 calories in potatoes.
- 14,100 IU of vitamin A compared to 5 IU in potatoes.
- 12 grams of carbohydrates compared to 31 grams in potatoes.
- 1.4 milligrams of iron compared to 0.48 milligrams in potatoes.
- 37 milligrams of calcium compared to 8 milligrams in potatoes.
Pumpkin seeds are nutritional powerhouses too. A one-ounce serving contains 9.2 grams of protein, 4.2 milligrams of iron, 37 percent of your daily magnesium and 33 percent of your daily phosphorous. Wow! Pumpkin seeds are also a source of B vitamins, folate and heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Finding Your Perfect Pumpkin
Pumpkin season starts in August and goes until September, culminating in mid-October when pumpkin patches and hayrides open across the country. Before you pick your pumpkin, remember: not all pumpkins are created equal. There are hundreds of types of pumpkins, and some are specific to carving jack-o-lanterns and decorating your front yard, while others are specific to culinary uses. If you want to cook with your pumpkin, look for the labels “pie pumpkin” or varieties such as Cinderella, Pink Banana Squash and Sugar Pie pumpkins. If you are purchasing directly from a farm, it’s a great idea to ask the farmer for his or her advice — they may surprise you with a unique variety!
Choose a heavy, firm, even-shaped pumpkin free of bruises and soft patches. The heavier the pumpkin, the better. More weight means more pumpkin flesh to cook with. When you bring it home, store your pumpkin in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to prolong its life.
Cooking Your Perfect Pumpkin
When you are ready to cook with your pumpkin, cut it open and take out the seeds and stringy middle material. Proceed to cut the pumpkin into chunks or halves. Depending on the recipe, raw pumpkin can be boiled, steamed or baked, a process that can take between 20 minutes to an hour and a half. A good rule of thumb when planning out recipes is that a five-pound pumpkin will yield approximately four cups of mashed pumpkin.
Save those seeds! After cleaning your pumpkin, simply toast the pumpkin seeds in a 225–300 F oven for 45 minutes to one hour in canola or sunflower oil, finishing them off with a dash of salt and spices of your choice!
Fresh or Canned?
Many of us don’t have the time to choose and prepare an entire pumpkin from scratch. Luckily, there are many high-quality brands of canned pumpkin puree available, and many recipes call for pumpkin puree as opposed to fresh pumpkin. When choosing a canned product, make sure the only ingredient is pumpkin, and there is no added sodium, sugar or filler. If you have the time, definitely go for fresh — the nuances of the pumpkin flavor will be more pronounced, and pumpkins picked at peak season are at their most nutrient dense.
Healthy Pumpkin Recipes
Venture beyond the pie crust this season and try these creative, easy and nutritious pumpkin recipes:
- This Roasted Pumpkin Apple Soup recipe is the perfect fall comfort food. It calls for fresh pie pumpkin, which needs to be cut into chunks and evenly roasted before blending into a soup. This vegan recipe also features the season’s favorite, fresh crisp apples, for a refreshing tartness.
- This whole-wheat Pumpkin Bread recipe only takes 15 minutes to prepare, and is an ideal recipe to make for friends and family during the holidays. Instead of fresh pumpkin, it calls for pumpkin puree, so there’s no hassle whatsoever. Besides being delicious, it’s also quite nutritious. Each slice contains almost a full day’s worth of vitamin A!
- Move over pumpkin latte, Pumpkin Pancakes will blow your mind! Just like traditional pancakes but with added pumpkin puree, these pancakes are rich and satisfying — one of the most delicious autumn brunch recipes of all time. Whole-wheat flour and added pumpkin also make this recipe extra healthy, boasting 110 percent of our daily vitamin A, as well as four grams of fiber and seven grams of protein.