Pumpkins are a type of winter squash that belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes cucumbers, melons, gourds and squash, and also one of the oldest domesticated plants. They are native to North America and are especially popular between the Halloween and Thanksgiving holidays thanks to Autumnal decorating/jack-o-lantern carving and pumpkin pie baking. Pumpkins are widely grown for commercial, food and recreational use and their history with humans goes back as early as 7,500 BC.
Top worldwide producers include the United States, Canada, Mexico and China while Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California are the top growers in the country. Not very surprising, Antarctica is the only continent that cannot grow this popular fruit. The word “pumpkin” originates from the Greek word “pepon”, which means large melon. Scientifically, pumpkins are a fruit since they contain seeds, but nutritionally they are more similar to vegetables. Pumpkins generally weigh between 6 and 18 pounds and have smooth, slightly ribbed skin. While the most common colors are a deep yellow to vibrant orange, a wide range of hues are available including white, tan, red, green and blue.
In the culinary world, pumpkins are most commonly used for holiday desserts such as pies, custards and cheesecakes, but they can also be used to make a variety of savory dishes as well. And they are an extremely beneficial addition to anyone’s diet. Pumpkins are also high in carotenoids, including alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin. These three powerful anti-oxidants work to help reduce oxidative stress, minimizing the damage caused by free radicals. This protection is especially helpful in combating cancer, especially skin, stomach, throat, breast and pancreatic; eye disease and other conditions. The high level of beta-carotene is also beneficial for our skin as it acts as a natural sunblock and offers some protection against asthma. Potassium, vitamin C and fiber are all beneficial to the heart and help improve overall heart health by lowering blood pressure, decreasing the risk of stroke and protecting against the oxidization of LDL cholesterol. Potassium also helps to preserve bone mineral density and protects against muscle mass depletion. Vitamin C helps the body produce collagen which keeps our skin strong and healthy and aids in healing wounds. It also increases white blood cell production, making the immune system work more efficiently.