What is the difference between squash and pumpkins? How long do pumpkins last? Besides carving, how else can you use pumpkins? Well, this post comes in handy to answer those questions!
You may have associated pumpkins with Halloween’s Jack-o-lanterns, pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and fall season.
However, there’s more to these squash members than meets the eye.
Pumpkins were first domesticated in Central and Southern America, with archaeologists obtaining pumpkin fragments and seeds of 7,000 years in Oaxaca.
Later on, cultivation extended in North America. The Native Americans used them extensively in their diet.
Nowadays, pumpkin cultivation is widespread globally, save for Antarctica. There are also innumerable pumpkin varieties in every region!
Pumpkins are extremely popular owing to their versatility and health benefits.
Types of Pumpkins
Pumpkins belong to the gourd family known as Cucurbitaceae. This family also includes winter squash, zucchini, courgettes, melon as well as cucumbers.
These species are known for their high water content, vines, large, flat seeds as well as lobed-leaves. Pumpkins come in diverse colors, shapes, flavors, textures and sizes.
The existing varieties are either natural or manmade. Whereas it would be impossible to list all the existing pumpkin varieties, certain species have permeated globally hence are relatable.
These include cucurbita pepo, argyrosperma, moschata and maxima. Examples of pumpkins from each of these species include winter squash, buttercup squash, crookneck pumpkins, butternut squash, cushaw pumpkin, turban gourds and large cheese squash.
Pumpkins are highly versatile. As such, they are the real deal for any household.
They are used in the following ways: culinary, ornamental, agricultural, personal care, cultural, medicinal as well as industrial uses.
Nutritional Value and Health Benefits
You may brush them off as not being tantalizing. Nevertheless, pumpkins are some of the most nutritious food items. Have you ever asked yourself why they are popularly used as baby foods?
Pumpkins contain choke-full of vitamins, minerals and compounds which benefit our bodies.
Apart from this, they are low-caloric foods hence highly favorable for weight management. Here is a brief description of each:
Pumpkins owe their rich levels of this vitamin to powerful antioxidants called beta-carotenes. These compounds are responsible for the deep orange hue found in pumpkins.
Vitamin A or retinol promotes healthy vision, cellular development, facilitates proper functioning of organs, immune and reproductive system as well as tissue growth.
Out of all other nutrients found in pumpkins, vitamin A is the highest. As a matter of fact, a single cup of pumpkin contains approximately 198% of vitamin A.
Pumpkins are also rich sources of this essential vitamin. Ascorbic acid is crucial in maintaining healthy skin as it aids in collagen production.
It also strengthens the immune system hence buffers the body against illnesses and infections. Furthermore, vitamin C greatly reduces bad cholesterols (LDL) hence protects the body from heart disease and high blood pressure.
In addition, vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron thereby mitigating iron deficiency.
Moreover, it also reduces uric acid levels in the blood, hence keeping gout at bay.
Pumpkins contain abundant supply of potassium. This vital mineral supports the body in numerous ways. Potassium aids in fluid balance by reducing water retention.
It also helps maintain a healthy nervous system by activating nerve impulses responsible for many functions like heartbeat and muscle contractions.
Potassium also promotes healthy bones by reducing loss of calcium in the body.
High potassium levels in the body regulate calcium levels in urine, hence helps to prevent kidney stones.
Fiber and high water content
Pumpkins are fiber-rich foods which promote healthy digestive system. Fiber facilitates bowel movement and is normally used in alleviating constipation.
Fiber in pumpkin is not only found in the flesh, but the edible seeds as well. Apart from fiber, pumpkin flesh has high water content.
This is beneficial for keeping the body well hydrated and also promotes digestion.
Other crucial nutrients found in pumpkins include vitamin E, manganese, iron, copper and vitamin B2.
Shelf Life of Pumpkins
In as much as pumpkins keep well due to their thick peel, fresh ones can deteriorate quickly if improperly stored.
Whole, fresh pumpkins keep well both in the pantry and refrigerator. In the pantry, a whole, fresh pumpkin stays in good quality for up to 3 months. If you opt to refrigerate, it can stretch for 5 months.
Cut pumpkins deteriorate the fastest. As such, always refrigerate cut portions after wrapping in heavy duty plastic wraps. Cut pieces keep well in the refrigerator for 3 days.
A better alternative is to freeze cut pumpkins. Well frozen ones last up to 8 months. The same goes for pureed pumpkins. Freeze pureed pumpkin in small batches and use within 8 months.
In case you have extracted the seeds and are planning on using them, it is better to roast or dry them first. Scrap off extra flesh and wash the seeds. Roast them until crispy dry. Store them in an airtight container. Dried pumpkin seeds keep well for up to 1 year.
You may be a pumpkin enthusiast and have gone as far as extracting oil from the seeds. As such, pumpkin seed oil can keep well if stored in a cool, dry place. It keeps well in good quality for 6 months.
How to Preserve Pumpkins for a Longer Shelf Life
Pumpkins store well, owing to their thick, solid peel. As such, they come in handy even when out of season.
Hence, you can enjoy them all year round whether you have preserved them or when fresh.
In case you have overflowing supply and are wondering what to do, here are some of the ways you can preserve pumpkins.
Moisture extraction in food items guarantees a longer shelf life. Pumpkins are ideal for drying. You can dry using the oven, food dehydrator machine or natural sunlight.
You can dry pumpkin in two ways – pureed pumpkin or pumpkin chunks/slices. For the slices, have evenly sliced ones to ensure thorough drying.
Dry pumpkin puree by spreading it on a lined sheet. The dehydrator or oven works best for this.
When completely dry, the dried puree should life off easily. Divide it into small chips and store in airtight containers. Well stored dried pumpkin keeps well for up to 2 years.
Canning is a wonderful method of preserving pumpkins in their fresh form.
When canning, cube them evenly in order to fit well in the jars. Use a specific canning recipe without altering any ingredient ratio.
Utilize the pantry, refrigerator and freezer to store canned ones.
Unopened cans keep well either in the pantry or refrigerator. They can last up to 2 years.
Opened cans keep well in the refrigerator for 1 week or in the freezer for up to 5 months.
In case of fresh pumpkin, tell-tale signs of spoilage include:
- Pungent smell
- Watery, oozy flesh
- Discoloration on flesh and skin
- Visible mold growth
- For canned pumpkin, look at the contents inside the cans. Any sign of discoloration indicates spoilage. Discard them immediately.
How long do pumpkins last? The shelf life depends on how you handle and store them. Yes, pumpkins are perishable, but you can preserve them for a longer shelf life.