Have you noticed? Not only are fresh pumpkins everywhere, but pumpkin seems to be flavoring drinks, desserts, breakfast dishes and an array of treats more than ever before! Do we really want pumpkin in our coffee? Some seem to think we do.
Strange this may be, but it isn’t all bad. The problem actually is that while we’ve got this seasonal craze for pumpkin in practically everything, it has put pumpkin into another narrow niche. Another? you ask. Well yes. This new niche is “autumn” with its subset “Halloween.” This is wider than the old niche–“pies” with its subsets “holidays” and “muffins and squares.” But it’s still too narrow. Pumpkin deserves more than this. Let me tell you why.
First of all, let’s settle this from the start–Pumpkin is a fruit, not a vegetable. Steven Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews list it in their book Superfoods (Harper, 2005), but they call it the “dark horse of the Superfoods.” For the reasons I’ve mentioned above, pumpkin rarely has a place as a healthy food choice that should be a mainstay in our diets.
I think the best reason to use more pumpkin is its complete convenience. “What!?” you say. What’s convenient about cutting open a big orange gourd-like thing, scooping out messy seeds and then cutting and scooping out the flesh?
You are right. There is nothing convenient about that. And that is NOT the best way to use pumpkin. I know this goes against all our usual thinking about fresh vs canned foods, but this is REALLY TRUE: CANNED PUMPKIN IS BETTER FOR YOU THAN FRESH PUMPKIN! This is because it’s been cooked down and has much lower water content than fresh pumpkin has. One cup of cooked canned pumpkin puree (NOT the can called “pumpkin pie filling,” because that has added sugar) is only 83 calories, provides 11.7 mg alpha-carotene and 17 mg of beta-carotene.
Within the next month and through Thanksgiving or maybe Christmas, cans of pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie filling will both be on featured display in most grocery stores. So you might think this is the only time canned pumpkin puree available. Wrong! You will find it all year long, most likely mis-stocked in the canned vegetable section of the store. If you don’t see it there, check the canned fruit section where it ought to be but usually isn’t.
Pumpkin is really, really good for you. It’s also not very expensive. Of course, you can scoop fresh pumpkin out of your Halloween jack-o-lantern, too. You won’t be able to get as much water out of it as they get at a cannery, but you’ll feel virtuous using your whole pumpkin. Before fresh pumpkins disappear consider making Stuffed Pumpkin for the fall.
Then, when Halloween is over and the fresh pumpkins disappear from the bins outside the store and the roadside stands, don’t let pumpkin disappear from your diet.