Pumpkins – Health Benefits and Preserving Tips
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It wouldn’t be fall without the bright orange sighting of pumpkins. Some pumpkins are for decorating, while others are for eating. Pumpkins are one of the most nutrient dense fruits that you can eat.
Health Benefits of Pumpkins:
Pumpkins are high in fiber: Pumpkin is a high fiber food with 2.7 grams of fiber per cup. Fiber is beneficial for removing “bad” cholesterol, regulating blood glucose levels, and helps you feel full longer. Over 60% of the fiber in pumpkin is soluble fiber, which swells with water in your gut to slow down how quickly your body absorbs glucose in your bloodstream. The remaining 40% of the fiber in pumpkin is insoluble fiber which is essential for gut health.
Pumpkin Facilitates Eye Health: Pumpkins are rich in beta carotene which is converted into vitamin A, which is important for your eyesight. One of the most important benefits of vitamin A for your eyesight is that it reduces the risk of macular degeneration. A one-cup serving of pumpkin contains 9,875 IUs of vitamin A, which is the range of optimal amounts per day.
Pumpkin Supports Your Immune System: Pumpkin is packed with vitamin C, which is so important for optimal health and your immune system. Vitamin C supports a healthy inflammatory response and fights free radicals.
Pumpkin is an Antioxidant: Due to high amounts of carotenoids in pumpkin, one of the health benefits of pumpkin is that it is an antioxidant. Carotenoids are compounds that function as antioxidants, which fight free radicals that cause oxidative damage.
Pumpkins are a seasonal treat that you typically can only purchase during the fall season. If you are a pumpkin lover and you would like to be able to enjoy it for longer than one season here are ways that you can preserve pumpkin.
- Freezing is the fastest and best way to preserve pumpkin, this method changes the texture the least
- Select mature pumpkins with smoothed-textured flesh; avoid stringy or dry pumpkins
- Cut into chunks and remove seeds. Boil, steam, pressure cook or bake until soft
- Once cooked, scrape the flesh from the rinds and mash
Place the mashed pulp into a pan and set pan in cold water and stir. Once cool, package in freezer containers (leaving ½” headspace) or freezer bags (pressing out all of the air) and seal.
- Pumpkin is a low acid food (pH > 4.6) that requires pressure canning for proper processing to reduce the risk of botulism.
- The form of the pumpkin is important, mashed or pureed pumpkin should not be canned, as there are no current tested recipes for pumpkin in this form.
- Slice or cube pumpkin no larger than 1” and boil for 2 minutes before filling jars, fill with the boiling water to the proper headspace.
- You can find tested home preserved pumpkin recipes at The National Center for Home Food Preservation
- To dry seeds, gently wash them to remove all of the pumpkin flesh and stringy matter.
- If using an electric dehydrator, dry at 115-120ºF for 1 -2 hours. Pumpkin seeds can also be dried in the oven on the lowest setting; it will take 3-4 hours. Check and stir often during oven-drying so they do not burn.
- To dry pumpkin flesh, cut into 1”x 1/8” strips and blanch. Use an electric dehydrator at 125ºF for 8 -10 hours until tough or brittle. Oven drying is not recommended.
- Make sure seeds or flesh are completely dry before storing. Once cool, place in a bag or jar and seal. If moisture accumulates in the bag or jar, remove and continue drying. Moist pumpkin will rot during storage.
- Store the seeds in a dry, cool, dark area. The cooler the area the longer the storage. Most dried foods are good or 4 months to a year
References: amymyersmd.com, NC State Extension-Home Food Preservation