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FoodCorps Friday: Pumpkin Spice: An Epidemic (And How to Eat the Squash)

by Bexx Merck

Some people might think I’m about to hate on pumpkin spice. They’re right.

Tis the season, right? Who knew an innocent blend of nutmeg, cloves, ginger, allspice, and cinnamon could sweep over the nation like, well, kale?

 

I wish it would stop. Not the pumpkin part, the spice part, and maybe the obsession, too. There are endless amounts of pumpkin pie spice inoculated food victims out there; even dog treats and toothpaste couldn’t escape. The (in)famous Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks has the spotlight…and the hashtag (#PSL #why). Beyond the expected coffee and creamers, chocolates, cookies, breads, and beer, I have seen gum, Jell-O, Pringles, chicken sausage (yes), and…hummus. Hummus.

 

In fact, did you know many of the “pumpkin spice” flavored products out there contain no pumpkin at all? Pumpkin piespice is meant to capture the aroma and experience of eating pumpkin pie (sans giant orange globe-squash), but that throat-pinching, eye-squinting, nose-wrinkling, way-too-sweet, palate wrecking flavor mixture does the exact opposite for me.

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Enter my good friend, pumpkin. As a kid, my family could only buy the stuff in cans, containing a pleasantly mushy but surprisingly sour orange gunk. All I knew then is that my grandmother put the gunk in the oven, called it pumpkin pie, and that pie was definitely better than your grandmother’s. She used spices only to bring out the best in the pumpkin and didn’t try to make it anything it wasn’t (and isn’t). My love for pumpkin developed akin to her craft: I am taken by the subtleties of the pumpkin itself, not its spices. Coax the flavors here and there and you’ll find a smooth, warm flavor not present in any other vegetable or dessert. That is the real flavor to be crazy about.

 
All judgment aside, seriously I’m trying really hard here, the spices play their part too. Pumpkin has a lot to offer us, beyond just the seasonal nostalgia. Pumpkins, a cultivar of cucurbita pepo, are native to North America and are the showstopper of the season change into Autumn. While cans of pumpkin may be convenient (and sometimes made from other types of squash), you can also dig into your own pumpkin for its pulp for cooking and seeds for roasting.  The squash, like many squashes, have a few health benefits worth noting. It is actually about 90% water, which means a lower calorie content that keeps you feeling full (and hydrated!) longer. If you’ve ever cut one of these guys apart, you’ll remember its hard, juicy interior, its meaty inside. The unique texture is unmistakably fibrous, which makes it great for your digestion, if that’s the type of benefit that excites you. I’m talking smooth moves that’ll make your mama proud and your friends jealous.  Who could turn down that?! Being orange, pumpkin also has a high beta-carotene content that our bodies convert to Vitamin A (or retinol). Retinol helps fight oxidation from occurring in cells, a process of metabolizing oxygen that essentially releases excess free radicals, or uncharged molecules, and damages cell membranes, that is, if enough antioxidants are not present. Your eyes, particularly your low-light vision, skin, teeth, soft tissues, and bones rely on this vitamin.

 
The good news about beta-carotene is that our bodies have no requirement or limit, for instance, too much of a vitamin can make us sick, but since our bodies have to first convert beta-carotene to a more useful vitamin A, there is low-to-no-risk of overdosing on beta-carotene when we consume it in food form. I have just given you permission to go pumpkin-crazy.

 
So forget the spice obsession and pick up the pumpkin. Put it in everything! Make a new hashtag! Join my campaign for More Pumpkin, Less Spice! Below are a few of my favorite recipes:

Pumpkin waffles – Hands down one of my favorite Fall pumpkin foods, since it transforms waffles into a more health-beneficial breakfast. I always add slightly more ginger than this recipe calls for. Top it off with molasses whipped cream, which you can easily make by adding a couple tablespoons of molasses to heavy cream while whipping!

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Pumpkin yogurt – My mom and I made this one up, since we both get early morning pumpkin hankerings. We combine a can of pumpkin with a 32oz tub of Greek or regular plain yogurt. I recommend the full-fat or low-fat, since yogurt is a great source of fats. Add to taste honey or molasses, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves or nutmeg.  Sometimes we use honey yogurt or other sweetened yogurts.

Pumpkin curry soup – This recipe is for carrots, but I’ve substituted with freshly cut butternut squash and pumpkin. I keep some carrots in the celery and onion mixture, and roast the squash or pumpkin with the spices on it. Up the amounts of cayenne pepper and curry powder (or at least the turmeric and cumin) and you’ll have a brighter soup with an extra kick. And if you’re like me and can’t ignore your Southern upbringing, you might add a ½ cup of half and half.

  1. Fantastic pumpkin points, Bexx! I actually used to roast & mash my own pumpkin when my babies were young; however, I did find it to be labor/time intensive & the results a bit watery & less dense than pumpkin from a can (those with only *one* listed ingredient). Admittedly, sometimes there was a bit less flavor, so I returned to the convenience & thick aromatic pumpkin in a can.
    Well done, young cucurbofile!

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