Pumpkin is a vegetable that belongs to the Cucurbita family which also includes squash, muskmelons and watermelons. It has gained immense popularity in the United States, particularly due to pumpkin pie and mainly for carving purposes during Halloween. Its shape varies from oblong to oblate and the skin is thick, smooth, and slightly ribbed. The color of the inside flesh varies from pale to dark green and orange to red. The edible seeds are present at the core of the pumpkin.
Pumpkins are winter squashes that are believed to have their origin in North America. A pumpkin generally weighs about 4 to 8 kg while the largest species of pumpkin can weigh up to 34 kg. When cooked, pumpkin has a mild, sweet flavour. An interesting fact about pumpkins is that they are monoecious plants, which means that they have both male and female flowers on the same plant. The female flower can be identified by the small ovary at the bottom of the petals.
Pumpkins are mostly used for making soups and pies. Pumpkin pie forms an important traditional part of the Thanksgiving meal in the United States. Being highly nutritious, raw pumpkin is often juiced. This drink provides various health benefits. Besides being used as food, pumpkin is also used for recreational purposes. For instance, it is carved to make Jack-o’-lantern for Halloween Night. Pumpkin is also known as ‘Kaddu’ in Hindi, ‘Gummadi Kayi’ in Telugu, ‘Purangikkai’ in Tamil, ‘Mathanga’ in Malayalam, ‘Kumbalakai’ in Kannada, ‘Kolum’ in Gujarati, ‘Lal Bhopla’ in Marathi, and ‘Kumra’ in Bengali.
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Pumpkin Skin Benefits
Benefits of pumpkin is for all skin types, particularly environmentally damaged or sensitive skin. Here are the benefits of pumpkin for skin.
1. Treatment of Oily Skin
If you have oily skin, you can try a face pack by mixing 1 tablespoon of pumpkin puree with 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar. Apply this on damp face and leave till it dries or up to 30 minutes. Rinse off with lukewarm water and then rinse with cold water. After this, you can apply an appropriate moisturizer meant for your skin type.
2. Treatment of Dry Skin
For dry skin, mix 2 teaspoons cooked or canned pumpkin puree with ½ teaspoon honey, ¼ teaspoon milk and ¼ teaspoon heavy whipping cream. Apply this evenly on your face avoiding the eye area let it settle for 10-15 minutes. This mask exfoliates, nourishes and conditions your skin. Rinse off with warm water and apply a moisturizer meant for your skin type.
3. Anti-ageing Benefits
Pumpkin is a good source of vitamin C which is a powerful antioxidant and also contains beta-carotene which helps to reverse UV damage and improve skin texture. It helps to promote the production of collagen, thus improving your skin tone and elasticity. It protects the skin from radical damage which is responsible for causing wrinkles and even skin cancer.
4. Treatment of Dark Spots
To fade dark spots, prepare a face pack by mixing 1 tablespoon pumpkin puree, 1 teaspoon honey, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and 1 teaspoon vitamin E oil. Apply this mixture on damp face for 30 minutes or until it dries and rinse off with lukewarm water.
5. Pumpkin Body Mask
You can prepare a refreshing body mask by mixing ½ cup cooked or canned pumpkin puree with ½ cup coconut solids and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon. Apply this all over your body, massaging gently. Leave this mask for about 10 minutes. Rinse off with warm water and pat dry. This will refresh and relax your skin.
6. Treatment of Acne
Pumpkin is a good source of B vitamins such as niacin, riboflavin, B6 and folate. Niacin improves circulation, and hence, is beneficial in treating acne. And folate helps to increase circulation, which improves cell turnover and renewal.
Pumpkin Hair Benefits
Besides its benefits in skincare, pumpkin offers several benefits for your hair, thanks to its rich nutritional value. As we all know, hair follicles require adequate supply of nutrients for their optimal growth and health. Pumpkin is beneficial for your hair in the following ways.
7. Promotes Hair Growth
Pumpkin is a rich source of minerals including potassium and zinc. Potassium helps in keeping hair healthy and improve re-growth. Zinc helps maintain collagen and thus play an important role in promoting healthy hair. It also contains folate, an important B vitamin that stimulates hair growth by improving blood circulation.
8. Great Conditioner for Dry Hair
If you have dry hair, you can prepare a simple hair conditioner using pumpkin. All you need to do is mix 2 cups of chopped and cooked pumpkin with 1 tablespoon coconut oil, 1 tablespoon honey and 1 tablespoon yoghurt. Make a puree with the mixture of pumpkin and yogurt in a food processor or blender. Then add coconut oil and honey to make a smooth mixture. Apply it to damp shampooed hair, wear a plastic shower cap and leave for 15 minutes. Rinse off thoroughly and style as usual.
Health Benefits of Pumpkins
This brightly colored, “cheerful looking” vegetable is rich in plenty of nutrients, making it a very valuable vegetable from the health perspective. It is a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, flavonoids and antioxidants such as xanthin, carotenes and leutin. It is also a good source of B complex vitamins like folate, niacin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid and thiamin. Mineral wise, it is rich in iron, copper, potassium, calcium and phosphorus. The health benefits of pumpkin include:
9. Low in Calories
Pumpkin is a very low calorie vegetable. 100 grams of pumpkin provide only 26 calories. Most of the dieticians recommend pumpkin in their weight reduction programs.
10. Rich Source of Beta Carotene
The distinctive bright orange color of pumpkin indicates that it is a rich source of beta carotene. People who eat a diet rich in beta carotene are less likely to develop cancer. Beta-Cryptoxanthin and carotenoids in pumpkin decrease the risk of lung cancer in smokers.
11. Reduces Asthma Attacks
The antioxidant properties of pumpkin protect the respiratory system from infections, reducing the asthma attacks.
12. Rich Source of Potassium
Potassium is an important mineral required for proper functioning of the heart and muscles. One serving of pumpkin provides around 550 g of potassium, making it one of the highest sources of potassium. You can add pumpkin to your post workout snack or meal for the extra potassium boost.
13. Reduces Risk of Heart Diseases
Pumpkin helps to get rid of build-up of arterial deposits, thereby reducing the risk of heart diseases and strokes. The high amount of antioxidants in pumpkin also prevents atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries). It minimizes the risk of high blood pressure. Pumpkin also has a high amount of phytosterol, which is very similar to human cholesterol. It normalizes the cholesterol to a healthy level.
14. Boosts Immune System
Pumpkin provides ample amounts of magnesium for maintaining muscle function and boosting the immune system. It boosts the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells in the body. This builds a resistance to various kinds of infections like cold, flu and fever.
15. Prevents Peptic Ulcer
Pumpkin is an amazing detoxifying food. It is an innate diuretic, which is useful for flushing out toxins and wastes from the body. The medicinal properties of pumpkin calm the gastrointestinal tract to prevent peptic ulcer.
16. Rich Source of Fiber
Pumpkin is a rich source of fiber. 1 cup of cooked pumpkin contains 3 grams of fiber, about 11 percent of your recommended daily intake of fiber. This aids in digestion and prevents constipation. It also keeps the stomach full for longer periods of time.
17. Reduces Stress and Depression
Lack of tryptophan in the body often leads to depression. Pumpkin is rich in L-tryptophan, an amino-acid which reduces depression and stress. The sedative properties of pumpkin are very effective in curing insomnia.
18. Rich Source of Vitamin A
Pumpkin is an excellent source of Vitamin A. This nutrient is required to keep the eye healthy and maintain good vision. Zea-xanthin in pumpkin has UV rays filtering actions in the retina of the eyes. This protects from the age-related macular diseases in the elderly.
19. Prevents Inflammatory Diseases
Regular consumption of pumpkin also reduces the risk of developing inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
20. Protects Against Prostate Cancer
The high content of carotenoids and zinc in pumpkin protects against prostate cancer. It prevents the enlargement of prostrate and over stimulation of the male hormones that cause prostate problems.
21. Rich Source of Vitamin K
Pumpkin is one of the best sources of Vitamin K. It contains around 40% of the daily recommended dose. Vitamin K is very beneficial for the health of bones and heart. Vitamin C in pumpkin is needed for proper growth and repair of the tissues in the body. One serving of pumpkins provides 20% of the daily recommended dosage.
How to Select and Store?
Selection: Pumpkins are available in various shapes, sizes and colors. They can grow up to 100 pounds but the smallest ones with tender flesh are most suitable for consuming. The first step is to check the stem of the pumpkin. Squeeze the stem to ensure that it is solid and firmly attached. A soft stem indicates that the pumpkin is not fresh and will not last long. Examine the entire pumpkin for soft spots and if you find any soft spot, move on to the next one. The stem gives character to the pumpkin. Hence, it should not be lifted by its stem as it is more likely to break.
As far as the color is concerned, it should be uniform. Patches of green indicate that the pumpkin was not ripe when picked and is not likely to ripen further. The shape of the pumpkin depends upon your personal preference.
Select those pumpkins which are free from blemishes, bruises and dents as these might cause the pumpkins to rot quickly. Look closely at the bottom of the pumpkin for molds and pinholes. Molds on the pumpkin indicate that it is already rotting while the pinholes indicate that the insects have started to eat the pumpkin and it is not likely to last long. The pumpkins should be small and heavy for their size as they have tender and more flavorful flesh.
- Storage: Pumpkins should be kept in a cool, dark, dry and well ventilated place, preferably an attic or spare room at a temperature of 45 to 60 degrees F. Pumpkins can last up to a month and can be refrigerated for up to 3 months. Cooked pumpkin can be stored up to 16 months in frozen or canned form.
To increase their shelf life, the skin of the pumpkins should be washed in chlorine solution prepared by adding a tablespoon of chlorine bleach to a gallon of water. This will disinfect the skin and discourage the formation of molds and rot. Dry immediately to prevent spoilage. If any mold is visible, wipe it off with vegetable oil.
Tips for Usage (Cooking / Eating):
Pumpkins can be a great addition to both savoury dishes and desserts since there are numerous ways of cooking these squashes. Pumpkins are needed to be cut into chunks before proceeding to prepare them. Since they have tough skins, they are needed to be cut with a strong knife. Pumpkin should be kept on a thick tea towel and then cut into halves. If the skin is extremely thick, the knife should be hammered in with a rolling pin. After cutting the first side, the pumpkin should be turned around to cut the other side until it is split into two. The seeds should be scooped out and the pumpkin can be cut into quarters. You can cut the pumpkins into chunks or wedges depending upon the requirement of the recipe. The skin should be peeled off until you want to roast it.
Pumpkins can be used in various ways some of which are given below.
1. Pumpkins should always be cooked at medium temperatures because high temperature can cause their flesh to become stringy. In case your pumpkin becomes stringy while cooking, you can beat the pulp with an electric mixer on high speed for about 10 seconds and then switch to low speed for about 60 seconds. Strings should be wrapped around the beaters to facilitate easy removal.
2. Cooked mashed pumpkins can be used in cake and muffin recipes to impart moisture and texture. Shelled pumpkin seeds can be a healthy alternative to pine nuts in many recipes.
3. For making pumpkin pies, you can either use homemade pureed pumpkin or canned ones. It is advisable to bake rather than steam or boil pumpkin in order to alleviate excess moisture. It should be mashed and drained through cheesecloth before being used in pies.
4. Roasted pumpkin is a delicious dish for any occasion. For this purpose, pre heat the oven at 210 degrees. Cut a half fresh pumpkin into desired sized pieces. Place the pumpkin on a baking dish with some oil drizzled on top and mix with a metal spoon to coat well. Sprinkle salt, pepper and rosemary over the pumpkin and place it in the oven. Take the dish out after half an hour, mix the pumpkin and place it in the oven for another half an hour or till it becomes soft and brown.
5. Pumpkin seeds known as pepitas can be roasted and enjoyed as snacks. You can prepare a sweet and salty snack using these seeds. Pre Heat the oven to 300 degrees F. Spreading out the seeds on a baking sheet, bake until dry for about 50 to 60 minutes. Now increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Taking out the dish, toss the seeds with butter, sugar, salt and cinnamon in a bowl. Now return the seeds to the baking sheet, tossing occasionally until golden brown for 10 to 15 minutes.
6. Pumpkin seed oil is an important by product of pumpkin seeds. This oil can be mixed with other oils for cooking, salad dressings and other purposes due to its strong flavor and color.
7. You can prepare a delicious soup by combining pumpkin and leek. All you need to do is heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Then add leeks, celery and garlic, cook until they become soft, for about 25 minutes. Stir in 1 ¾ teaspoons salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Ladle the soup into a blender and blend until it is smooth. Pour it in a bowl and top with rosemary.
8. Pumpkin chips are a healthy alternative to potato chips. Heat about 1 ½ inches of peanut oil in a soup pot over medium to high heat. Gently add the pumpkin slices and sauté for 3 minutes or until they turn golden. The chips on being ready will begin to float on the top. Carefully remove the chips from the oil with the help of a slotted spoon and place them on a paper towel-lined platter. Season them with salt and serve.
9. Sautéed pumpkins is a delicious dish for autumn. Heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a large skillet and add about 1 ½ pounds of seeded, peeled and cut pumpkin chunks. Then stir pieces to coat well. Cover the skillet, cook until the pumpkin chunks turn soft, mixing occasionally. Now uncover the skillet and sauté for 15 minutes or until the pumpkin is golden brown and fork-tender. The sautéed pumpkin can be seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled with maple syrup. It should be served warm.
10. You can prepare the delicious pumpkin bread by combining canned pumpkin puree with whole wheat flour. For this purpose, pre heat the oven to 350 degrees F and coat two loaf pans with cooking spray. Mix all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In another large bowl, whisk egg whites, brown sugar, pumpkin puree and oil. Add this pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Spread the batter into the prepared pans and smoothen the top. Bake the loaves until their tops turn golden brown for about 50-60 minutes. Turn the loaves out on to a wire rack to cool completely. Your pumpkin bread is ready.
Pumpkin is definitely a wonder vegetable with some delicious recipes to choose from. And also a few advantages for hair and body. Get creative and dazzle your holiday guests with our best pumpkin recipes, including starters, soups and sweet pumpkin treats. Or try some of the face or hair packs.
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