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October 26 is National Pumpkin Day, but even when Halloween and Thanksgiving aren’t just around the corner, this surprising superfood deserves a place of honor in the kitchen. “Pumpkins are grown on every continent except Antarctica,” explains DeeDee Stovel, author of Pumpkin: A Super Food for All 12 Months of the Year. “For people who only associate it with pie, it’s a revelation to see all the ways you can use it.”
Did You Know?
Illinois leads the U.S. in pumpkin production, with more than 10,000 acres devoted to our favorite fall fruit—almost twice as much as any other state.
Peeled chunks are found in African stews, Indian curries, Italian risottos, and Caribbean soups. Mexicans simmer them with brown sugar for breakfast; Brazilians stuff and bake them whole, and Japanese cooks slice them into thin strips to be fried in tempura batter. Here at home, canned purées provide slightly sweet, colorful bases for quick breads, coffee cakes, and pie fillings.
Is It Really “Pumpkin”?
And speaking of pie filling. do you know what’s really in those cans you buy at the supermarket? In recent years, a flurry of social media posts and blogs have claimed that canned purées sold for pie making aren’t actually pumpkin at all, but blends of different types of winter squash. This is partially true.
In fact, all pumpkins are types of squash. The varieties commonly sold for decoration are grown for their appearance—they make great-looking jack-o’-lanterns—but the flesh tends to be watery, stringy, and not very appetizing. Something anyone who’s carved them knows.
Did you know?
All pumpkins come from the genus Cucurbita, technically making them squash.
So many canned purées are actually blends of squash that are better for cooking—and eating. Libby’s, the maker of the majority of the canned pumpkin sold in the U.S., uses a variety known as the Dickinson, which is more squash-like than jack-0′-lantern fodder, but still recognizable as a pumpkin.
Pumpkin has a well-deserved reputation as a superfood, offering a generous portion of key nutrients including fiber, potassium, and vitamin A for very few calories and very little carbs. The breakdown:
1 Cup Cooked
Vitamin C: 12mg
Vitamin A: 2650 IU
Did you know?
One cup of canned pumpkin provides over 200% of the Daily Value of vitamin A.
Don’t Toss Out the Seeds
When you’re carving that Halloween jack-o’-lantern this year, take a moment to save the seeds. They’re also tiny nutritional powerhouses that work great as healthy toasted snacks or as additions to many recipes. Also known as pepitas, these seeds are a great source of magnesium, which has been shown to ease symptoms of depression and lower blood pressure.