Food Focus: Pumpkin

It seems like everything is pumpkin flavored this time of year. And the majority of popular seasonal treats are artificially flavored, but real pumpkin, can be a great, healthy way to add some Fall-tastic flavor to your diet. Packed with fiber, vitamins, and nutrients, fresh pumpkin definitely deserves a place in your life (and not just for carving). Now let’s dig in and get the inside scoop on pumpkins!

What does it look like?

You can find pumpkins in all shapes, sizes and colors, but the most delicious pumpkins are ones that are about the size of a basketball (or smaller), bright orange, and firm-fleshed. Pumpkins that are grown for jack-o-lanterns and decoration are often bland and less sweet than the sweet pie pumpkins grown specifically for cooking.

What does it taste like?

Roasted pumpkin is slightly sweet, creamy, and has a similar taste to other squash or sweet potatoes. Frequently, pumpkin-flavored goodies found in restaurants and stores are actually more focused on the spice flavors (cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.) that many cooks use in pumpkin pie recipes than the actual flavor of pumpkin itself.

Why are they good for me?

Just like most fruits and veggies, pumpkin is packed with dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Specifically, a one-cup serving of roasted pumpkin gets you 214% of your daily vitamin A requirement and 33% of your vitamin C. While many folks consider pumpkin to be very starchy, recent studies have shown that the starches in winter squashes, like pumpkin, are actually very good at helping to regulate insulin in the body, as well as helping to reduce inflammation.

When and where do I get pumpkins?

Right now is the perfect time to pick up pie pumpkins. Many grocery stores don’t carry pie pumpkins out-of-season, but they might have them during the Fall. You can also pick pie pumpkins at many local pumpkin patches as well as find them readily at Fall farmer’s markets and farm stands. Look specifically for pumpkins labeled as “pie pumpkins” or “sugar pumpkins” for the best pumpkin-y flavor. Stock up now! If kept in a cool, dark place (like a basement, cool closet or even under a bed in a cool bedroom), winter squash can keep all winter long.

How do I prepare pumpkin?

Most recipes that call for pumpkin, call for pumpkin puree. Instead of buying it in the can, pick up a few pie pumpkins and make your own—it’s cheaper and a lot more flavorful. To make: cut a pie pumpkin in half, scrape out the seeds and strings (reserve the seeds for roasting later), place the pumpkins, cut-side-down on a baking sheet. Bake in a 350° oven until the flesh is tender—about an hour. Scoop out the flesh, and puree. The puree is great in baked goods, smoothies, and soups—I even love mixing it in with my morning oatmeal. The puree also freezes well.

Roasted pumpkin is also incredible as a side dish, just peel, seed, and cut the pumpkin in chunks, toss with some olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in a 350° oven until tender—about 20 minutes, depending on the size of the pumpkin chunks.

What are some good recipes?

No need to pay $5 to get your pumpkin fix at your closest coffee shoppe, there are tons of great pumpkin-flavored recipes out there. Check out some of our favorites:

What’s your favorite way to eat pumpkin?

Image credit: WVS via Flickr | Library Man via Flickr

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Cassie Johnston is an award-winning food writer and recipe developer living and working in Southern Indiana. Her work has been feature in national publications such as Gourmet Magazine and The Huffington Post. Cassie’s a big fan of strenuous hikes, cheese, watching sports, Brussels sprouts, and craft beer, and she’ll talk your ear off about her love of local food and seasonal eating. She’s obsessed with social media and loves connecting with new friends!