Pumpkin is a fruit that belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family. It is a large family of herbaceous plants. Cucurbitaceae consists of about 1000 species of fairly large and fleshy fruits. Watermelons, cucumbers, and squashes belong to this family. Pumpkins are edible fruits. The flesh may be sweet or bitter, depending upon the maturity of the fruit.
Pumpkins have a rigid outer skin. The seeds are large and flat. Flowers of pumpkin are yellow colored and funnel-shaped. Pumpkin fruits are usually bright orange in color. However, they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.
The name pumpkin has been derived from a Greek word pepon which means large melon. Pepon was later changed to pompon when the French adopted it. It again got changed to pumpion by the English. The word further evolved in the early colonies of the New World. Later, the Americans started called this fruit pumpkin.
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Origin of Pumpkin
The archeological evidence suggests that pumpkins date back to about 7,000 years. They were found in Northwestern Mexico but there is no certainty about the exact origin. Most likely the pumpkin has its origin from North America or Central America.
Pumpkin reached Europe during the colonial era of exploration. It is thought that it was transported from the New World. Pumpkins were spread to other continents widely through commerce, trade, and other interactions. It is harvested in six continents at present.
Species of Pumpkins
Cucurbitaceae family has the most species of fruits that can be consumed by humans. Of all species of this family, the most important one is Cucurbita. The following species, in particular, have been cultivated for thousands of years in the New World.
Cucurbita pepo is the most common variety of field pumpkins. It is thought to have originated over 5,000 years ago in northwestern Mexico. It has spread to six continents. Its evolution has been through the domestication of three lineages which are subsp. pepo, subsp. fraterna, and subsp. texana.
Many natural and manmade varieties of pumpkin are present in this group. The most prominent ones are miniature pumpkins, field pumpkins, ornamental gourds, and acorn squash. The fruits and seeds are mainly consumed whereas the leaves and flowers may be used as vegetables.
There are two main subspecies in this group: argyrosperma and sororia. The ripe flesh is used as food for livestock sometimes. Their fruits are usually prepared like vegetables. The flesh of ripe fruit is also used as a base for desserts. The seeds of fruits that fall in this group can be consumed whole, roasted, or ground. The seeds make an important ingredient in many soups and stews. The flesh of fruits in this group is used for the treatment of burns and stimulation of breast milk production in nursing mothers on the Yucatan Peninsula.
The prominent varieties of pumpkins in this group are winter squash and cushaw pumpkin.
This species of pumpkin originated in South America. They are widely used for culinary purposes. Some pumpkins of this species may be used for ornamental purposes or even for home décor. This group of pumpkins includes turban gourds, large hubbards, banana squash, and buttercup squash.
This species of pumpkin was domesticated in Latin America. However, the exact origin is not fully known. It has been cultivated for over 5,000 years. The young, ripe fruits, flowers, and stems of this species are consumed as vegetables. Ripe fruits may be used to make sweets.
The varieties that are encompassed in this group include large cheese squash, butternut squash, and crookneck pumpkins.
Types of Pumpkin
Pumpkins are divided into two types which are edible pumpkins and decorative pumpkins. This fruit is inherently connected with Halloween which is an American fest. Pumpkins have been used for thousands of years and gained popularity in recent years. Most of the pumpkin types are edible. The bright colors and the bizarre shapes of pumpkins make them a great for decorative and ornamental purposes.
They are mostly used as vegetables. Edible pumpkins usually have bright orange colored flesh. The bright orange color is due to the presence of a component, lutein. Lutein is extremely beneficial for human eyesight. They may be as small as a few centimeters and they can be as large as eight meters.
Gourd general is the most commonly cultivated pumpkin. The mature fruit can weigh as much as several tens of kilograms. It is used for cooking and making a compote.
Spaghetti squash is one of the most delicious pumpkins. As it names suggests, the flesh of this pumpkin is like spaghetti after it has been cooked. Its tasty flesh makes it great for cooking.
This pumpkin is the most delicate of all types. As you can judge from its name, it comes from the Japanese island, Hokkaido. The taste of this pumpkin is sweet, similar to that of chestnuts or potatoes. It is one of the smallest grown types of pumpkin. The weight ranges from 0.7 to 2.5 kg. the color ranges from yellow to deep orange. It may come as dark green or whitish gray sometimes. The flesh is orange in color. It has numerous positive health effects on humans, which makes it quite popular.
It is rich in essential minerals and vitamins that are beneficial in diseases of kidney, heart, stomach, spleen, prostate, and pancreas. It can be sued in cream soups, jams, marmalades, compotes, and sauces.
Red and Green Hokkaido
Red Hokkaido or Uchiki Kuri is a very popular type of pumpkin which has excellent flesh that makes it suitable for cooking and compote. A popular type of red Hokkaido is Pumpkin Potimarron which is bigger in size as compared to Uchiki Kuri. Its shape is like a pear. It is widely used in the kitchen. Green Hokkaido is also very popular. Common varieties of green Hokkaido are Chestnut pumpkin and Buttercup Bobbon.
German Gelber Zentner Pumpkin
This type of pumpkin was originally bred in Europe. The growth is easy and the cultivation is not at all complicated. It is suitable for bottling.
It has a woody husk. It is well-known for the excellent seeds within its woody husk. The seeds are rich in minerals and vitamins. Before use, the seeds are to be dried properly. The seeds of hull-less pumpkin help lower cholesterol, blood pressure and decrease the chances of stroke and heart attack. They also help in combating problems of the prostate. It is beneficial for headaches and joint pain.
This pumpkin is specifically used most during Halloween. The pumpkins we see carved into different decorative items on Halloween is usually the Valenciano pumpkin. It is also used in making desserts, jams, and compotes.
Ribbed on the outside, this is a green-colored pumpkin with a bright orange interior. It is best used raw. Its flesh is extremely dense.
Iron Cup is green on the surface and light orange in the inside. It can be used in any kitchen preparation, especially in soups. It can be stored for up to one year, owing to its consistency.
It is named Crown Prince because of a crown that grows on the fruit. Like the Iron Cup, this pumpkin can be stored for a fairly long time. It is light blue or blue on the surface and bright orange from the inside.
Hungarian Blue Pumpkin
It has an ash gray surface. It can be stored for a very long time as well. It has dense flesh.
With a green colored surface and a yellow colored interior, the Peruvian pumpkin is great for cooking. It resembles an acorn.
These pumpkins resemble a Turkish turban in appearance. They are found in many different colors. Mostly, they are orange and green. They can weigh up to 4kg. it is perfect to be used for cooking and they are the best types of pumpkin to be used for stuffing and baking.
Sweet potatoes are very popular and commonly used type of pumpkin which is great for cooking. They can be used raw as well.
Chameleon is found in a wide array of colors that make them great for decorative purposes but they are also suitable for cooking. It has a delicate nutty flavor. It can be stored for a long time.
Festival is a delicious pumpkin that can be used raw. However, it can be used in cooking. Festival pumpkin is a popular decorative pumpkin as well, because of its yellow, white and green discoloration.
Baby Boo is a white colored pumpkin that is suitable for cooking as well as to be used in raw form. It’s a fluted pumpkin that tastes great.
This is a sweet pumpkin that is widely used in making sweet dips. Its surface is ribbed orange green that makes it a great decorative pumpkin.
Sweet Dumplings, as the name indicates is a sweet tasting pumpkin. It is ribbed gray-green on the surface. It has excellent flesh. It tastes like classic chestnuts.
Marina di Chioggia
It is a dark gray or green colored pumpkin with great flesh. It tastes best roasted or stewed in its skin.
Decorative pumpkins are those which are purely used for the purpose of decoration. They are not edible.
They are named so because of their shape that resembles a bird with a crooked neck. They are purely decorative. They are a beautiful orange color.
These pumpkins are dark green in color with white stripes. They are a popular pumpkin when it comes to decorations.
Other common decorative pumpkins include Lagenaria Cobra and Autumn Wings.
Why Pumpkin is Called a Fruit?
According to the definition of fruit in Encyclopedia Britannica, a fruit is a dry ripened or a fleshy ovary of a plant that has a seed or seeds enclosed. According to this definition, tomatoes, avocados, cucumbers, and even pumpkins are fruits and not vegetables. The botanical classification is not based on whether the produce has a sweet or savory taste.
A pumpkin has bright orange colored flesh inside that contains numerous seeds. The seeds are called pepitas. The presence of seeds proves that pumpkin is a fruit after all.
If you are wondering if what you always thought were vegetables are classified as fruits, then what are vegetables? You should look at all other edible parts of a plant including the stem, leaves, roots, bulbs, tubers, and flowers. These are all vegetables.
Health Benefits of Pumpkins
As mentioned earlier, pumpkins have numerous essential constituents that account for the health benefits that the pumpkins possess.
Pumpkins are an excellent source of beta carotene which is a powerful antioxidant. It is this component of a pumpkin that gives it its characteristic orange color. The ingested beta carotene is converted into Vitamin A in the human body. Other than beta carotene, pumpkins are rich in fiber content. Pumpkin also contains many essential minerals and vitamins.
Regulation of Blood Pressure
Pumpkin intake is beneficial for the heart. Potassium Vitamin C and fiber in pumpkin are all essential constituents for heart health. According to studies, increasing the intake of potassium is as important as reducing the intake of sodium for controlling blood pressure and hypertension. An increased intake of potassium reduces the risk of stroke, prevents loss of muscle mass and preservation of the mineral density of bones.
Reducing Risk of Cancer
Research suggests that consuming a beta-carotene-rich diet reduces the risk of development of prostate and colon cancer. Pumpkins are rich in antioxidants like beta carotene, Vitamin C and Vitamin E that prevent the occurrence of cancer by combating against free radicals. Free radicals are said to be responsible for causing cancer.
The components of pumpkin greatly increase the absorption of glucose from the blood into the tissues. They also balance the level of glucose in the liver.
Pumpkins are an excellent source of fiber. Fiber is essential to maintain and smoothens the process f digestion. It promotes regular bowel movements. A healthy intake of fiber can also help in reducing the risk of colon cancer. Including pumpkin in diet can overcome the deficiency of fiber which may arise due to an unhealthy diet.
Pumpkin strengthens the immune system. The high content of Vitamin C and beta carotene boost the immunity significantly. Beta carotene is converted into Vitamin A that promotes the synthesis of white blood cells, which are the basic part of the immune system.
Pumpkins are rich in beta carotene which is converted to Vitamin A once ingested. Vitamin A can protect from blindness. Pumpkins also contain lutein and zeaxanthin which greatly reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Vitamin C and Vitamin E are natural antioxidants that prevent the damage to the cells of eyes, hence protecting eyesight from getting affected.
Promotes Weight Loss
Despite being rich in nutrients, pumpkin is a low-calorie food item. One cup of pumpkin which is about 245grams in weight has only 50 calories. Incorporating pumpkin in your diet can help you lose and manage your weight. It is also rich in fiber that keeps you feeling satiated that automatically cuts down your craving for food, hence, aiding loss of weight.
Promotes Healthy Skin
Pumpkins are loaded with skin-friendly nutrients. Pumpkins have carotenoids like beta carotene which is converted into Vitamin A by the body. A cup of pumpkin contains 245% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of Vitamin A.
Carotenoids act as a natural sunblock that protects the skin from harmful UV rays of the sun. Vitamin C is also essential for healthy looking skin as it promotes the formation of collagen. Collagen keeps the skin healthy and strong. As mentioned earlier, lutein, zeaxanthin and Vitamin E in pumpkin are antioxidants that boost the defense mechanism of the skin.
Versatility of Pumpkins
Pumpkins are not just tasty and nutritious, but they are highly versatile. They can be easily incorporated in your diet. Its sweet taste makes it suitable for desserts while it is equally suitable for savory dishes like soups, pasta, and vegetables. Not just the pulp but the seeds are packed with nutrients as well. You can eat them dried, roasted or even ground. Pumpkin is no less than a magical fruit that is packed with noticeable health benefits. The best thing about pumpkins is that they can be accommodated in daily recipes quite easily.
What is better than a nutrient-rich food that is low in calories? You can have it all you want without worrying about gaining weight. Pumpkins are a fun fruit that can be used in cooking and decoration. This special fruit for Halloween can be used all year long in dozens of different recipes.