One of the most perfect foods isn’t what you might think.
By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist
With Halloween right around the corner, there seems to be massive displays of pumpkins everywhere. Their commercial window is short compared to others in their family such as zucchini and winter squashes. The reason is simple; we typically only do three things with pumpkins. We carve them into jack-o-lanterns, we roast the seeds, and we make pie with them once a year.
But we are missing out on one of nature’s most perfect foods.
Native to Central America and Mexico, evidence suggests pumpkins have been cultivated for nearly 7,000 years. They are in the same gourd family as cucumbers, honeydew melon and zucchini. The word pumpkin originated from the Greek word “pepon.” Interestingly, they are one of the only fruits in which the male and female flowers are on the same plant, though only the female flower produces fruit.
Originally pumpkins were not that large or smooth but, much like bell peppers and tomatoes, we have bred them to be more visually appealing.
Something else worth noting: Only pumpkins and tomatoes retain virtually all of their nutritional value during the canning process.
Pumpkins have been part of Thanksgiving festivities since the beginning, but not originally in the form of a perfect crust pie. Rather they were used to make custard in which eggs, cream, honey and spices were combined inside a hollowed-out pumpkin. Then it was baked in the coals of a fire until the outside turned black, and was then scooped out with the custard and soft-baked interior. I’m thinking I’d rather make one of those this year.
But in terms of health and nutrition, it’s hard to beat a pumpkin.
A 4-ounce portion only has about 26 calories, and pumpkins contain no saturated fat or cholesterol. They are rich in fiber as well as antioxidants, and are a virtual storehouse of vitamins.
Pumpkins boast one of the highest levels of vitamin A, which supports vision, the immune system and cell growth.
In addition, they are also high in vitamin C, an essential nutrient in tissue repair. This is beneficial since humans, along with monkeys and guinea pigs, do not produce their own.
Next on the vitamin list is E. Vitamin E is essential to our immune system as well as our overall metabolism.
Pumpkins are also an excellent source of the B complex of vitamins, of which there are too many benefits to mention here.
In addition, they contain zeaxanthin, which is a strong filter against ultra violet rays, thereby protecting our skin and complexion.
They also have countless polyphenolic compounds which then get converted to yet more vitamin A.
As if that isn’t enough, pumpkins are rich in copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus.
Given the nutritional value, low price and color—studies show orange is the most appealing food color to humans—it’s perplexing to me why pumpkins aren’t utilized more.
I like to flavor hummus with it periodically, and occasionally fold some pumpkin puree into my mashed potatoes. For me, pumpkin is far more useful and nutritious than to be used solely for flavoring your Starbucks latte.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.