Pumpkin is the fruit of a fast growing vine which is part of the Cucurbitaceae family that also includes cucumber, zucchini, squash and melons. There are several varieties of pumpkin available in Australia, including Butternut, Jap, Queensland Blue and Golden Nugget.
The colour of pumpkin is derived from the orange pigments abundant within them. They are a rich source of Carotenoids: Alpha-Carotene, Beta-Carotene and Cryptoxanthin which are all rich antioxidants and precursors of Vitamin A. The deeper the flesh colour of the pumpkin the richer the source of beta-carotene.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for normal reproduction, immune function and good vision. Whereas Alpha and Beta-carotene are antioxidants that inhibit free radical damage to cells, enhance cellular defence systems, (possibly involving tumour-specific antigens) and formulate retinoic acid which plays an important role in gene regulation. Cryptoxanthin is a strong antioxidant that helps to prevent free radicals from damaging your cells and DNA.
Retinoic Acid is required to maintain differentiation of the cornea and conjunctiva and plays an important role in embryonic development (particularly in the development of the spinal cord, vertebrae, limbs, heart, eye and ears). Pumpkins are also a source of potassium and tryptophan.
Ripe pumpkins can be stored in a well ventilated cool dark place for several weeks. However, once cut the need to be refrigerated and used within a week. Pumpkins are ideal for pureeing, roasting, steaming, boiling, baking, frying and can be used in sweet or savoury dishes, such as soups, salads, scones and pies.
Almost all parts of the pumpkin plant are edible including the fruit, leaves, flowers and seeds. Pumpkin seeds also known as Pepitas are a small, flat, green seed. Most pumpkin seeds are covered by a white husk, although some pumpkin varieties produce seeds without them. Pumpkin seeds are a popular snack that can be found hulled or semi-hulled. They are a good source of protein, magnesium, copper and zinc.
Pumpkin is a low to moderate source of energy and depending on the variety they provide 125-200kJ/100g. They are also a good source of fibre providing between 1.1-2.7g fibre/100g.
Check out this recipe for Lazy Chicken and Vegerable Soup!
Nutritional Information Source: Nutrient Reference Values for Australia & New Zealand 2006; NUTTAB 2010.
PLEASE NOTE: Fruits & vegetables in season may vary depending on where you live. Check with your friendly greengrocer.