Pumpkin is one of the varieties of winter squash. Pumpkin belongs to the family of acorn, butternut and other gourds. It is usually orange or yellow in color having a thick shell with seeds and pulp inside. The pulp of pumpkin is an edible part including the seeds. In Greek cuisine, pumpkin is known as ‘large melon’. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin salad and pumpkin cutlets are some of the popular pumpkin dishes that are well-liked in global cuisine.
Origin of Pumpkin
Though the origin of pumpkin is still not confirmed it is believed to have originated in North America. In Mexico, the oldest evidence of the seeds of pumpkin was found between 7000-5000 BC.
Culinary Use of Pumpkin
Pumpkin is a fruit that is used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes. Several desserts and salads also include pumpkin as the main ingredient. Pumpkin dishes can be either made while boiling and mashing the pumpkin. In salads, chopped and raw pumpkin is used. Due to little sweet taste, pumpkin is widely used in making pies, puddings and tarts. In India, pumpkin is usually cooked as a savory side dish. Mashed pumpkin is also used to make cutlets, soups and as a stuffing in Italian ravioli.
Pumpkin seeds are also an edible part that can be eaten while roasting. Seeds are also a good substitute of sunflower seeds. Many alcoholic drinks and beverages are made with pumpkin flavor. As a Halloween and Thanksgiving staple, pumpkin is famous all over the world.
Cuisines Commonly Making Pumpkin Dishes
Pumpkins are widely used in Europe, the USA, Australia, Africa, India and the Caribbean. The native cuisine of pumpkin is North American cuisine where it is eaten mashed as a part of traditional autumn harvest. Traditional pumpkin pie is a staple in Canadian and American holiday meals. A middle-eastern dish called ‘halawa yaqtin’ is a very famous sweet delicacy made with pumpkin. In Australian cuisine, pumpkin dishes are made while roasting it with other vegetables. Japan, Myanmar and Thailand are also famous for making sweet and savory pumpkin dishes.
Pumpkin seeds and seed oil are also very famous as ingredients in several dishes. Roasted pumpkin seeds are eaten as a snack in various cuisines. Pumpkin seed oil is a very popular ingredient in salad dressings made in central Europe. Austrian pumpkin dishes such as pumpkin soup and salads contain pumpkin seed oil as one of the ingredients.
Preferable Methods for Cooking Pumpkin
Pumpkin is a very versatile fruit that can be cooked in several ways. Here is the list of methods that can be used to cook pumpkin dishes:
• Boiling – Ripe pumpkin is boiled and incorporated in making various sweet and savory dishes. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin cutlets and pumpkin poori (Indian) are some of the pumpkin dishes made with boiled and mashed pumpkin.
• Roasting – Pumpkin can be roasted and eaten independently or in conjunction with other vegetables.
• Baking – Shredded or mashed pumpkin is added with flour and other ingredients to make traditional pumpkin pie, cakes and tarts.
• Steaming – Steamed pumpkin can be incorporated in salads and other savory dishes.
Nutritive Value of Pumpkin
Pumpkin like other winter squash is a good source of beta carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. Pumpkin dishes are a very good source of vitamin A for vegetarians. Beta carotene obtained from pumpkin is also an antioxidant, that helps to prevent certain types of cancer. Vitamin E is also present in abundance in pumpkin. The excellent digestive properties of pumpkin make it an excellent weaning food.
Pumpkin seeds are also highly nutritious. They are an excellent source of iron, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium and zinc. They can also be used in treatment for prostate cancer and urinary problems.
Buying and Storing of Pumpkin
Pumpkins are usually available in the month of October and throughout the fall winter season. Though canned pumpkin is also suitable for eating and culinary purposes fresh pumpkin is always recommended. Bright colored pumpkin with firm texture should be purchased from the grocery store. Storing of pumpkin is also a very easy task as it can be wrapped and stored in refrigerator for at least 3-4 days. Leftover pumpkin dishes can also be kept in refrigerator for up to 2-3 days.
Types of Pumpkin
The family of plants to which pumpkin belongs, is known as ‘Cucurbita’. The family has several species; some of them are as follows:
• Cucurbita Moschata – Tan-skinned pumpkin with oblong shape. This group mainly includes pumpkins that are used commercially for canning purposes.
• Cucurbita Pepo- This variety includes little pumpkins widely used in Halloween meals to make ‘Jack-o-lantern’.
• Cucurbita Maxima – These are considered as the beast’s pumpkins due to the large size.
Non-food Use of Pumpkin
• In North America, pumpkin is carved to design ‘Jack O Lantern’ at the time of Halloween parties.
• Pumpkin chucking is a competition in which teams try to throw the pumpkin as far as possible.
• Various pumpkin festivals havealso been arranged to compete for the biggest pumpkin grown.
• Though pumpkin is a fruit it is used as a vegetable for culinary purposes.
• 99% of pumpkins grown are used to make ‘Jack O lantern’, during Halloween.
• Antarctica is the only continent deprived of pumpkin cultivation.
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