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Pumpkin- A forgotten super Food

Pumpkin is a powerhouse of nutrients such as a highly valued omega 3 fatty acids, unsaturated fatty acids, high protein, beta-carotene, vitamin E and minerals.

Pumpkin has powerful antioxidants, antidiabetic and anticancer properties.

Growing up in rural Kenya, pumpkin fruit was not regarded as a delicacy by many; it was only consumed due to lack of potatoes while pumpkin leaves were used in absence of cabbage or kales.

Pumpkin seeds were out rightly discarded due to lack of knowledge of their high nutrients, medicinal as well as commercial value (In Dublin, Ireland, a quarter kilogram of seeds costs Kshs 500). In www.amazon.co.uk, 500g of pumpkin seeds cost £ 6.5 which is approximately Kshs 1000.

Pumpkin is an annual vine or trailing plant which grows in low to high altitude making pumpkins available all over the world.

In 2008, China was the highest producer of pumpkin producing 6.3 million tonnes annually followed by India with 3.5 million and USA third with 0.8 million tonnes.

In these leading producer countries, pumpkin is usually consumed or canned but Austria and a few Eastern European countries derive a big proportion of income from pumpkin seed oil.

The origin of pumpkin has been attributed to North America, most probably Guatemala, central Mexico or Columbia.

The name pumpkin as is today known was coined by Americans. The source of this name can be traced back to Greek word pepon which means big melon. The French changed pepon to pumpoin. The British changed the word further to pumpion before American added the twist to pumpion to make it pumpkin.

There are several varieties of pumpkins grown all over the world, some wildly while others are cultivated.

The three most important classes of pumpkins consumed or grown for commercial purposes are: acorn, buttercup/kabocha and butternut squash.

In West Africa, another type of pumpkin called fluted pumpkins is the most common which is a delicacy in Southern Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

The fluted pumpkin is primarily grown as a leafy vegetable although the fruit is also consumed.

The edible parts of a pumpkin are the leaves, fruit and the seeds.

Pumpkin leaves are traditional vegetables of choice to many communities in Africa, North America and Asia. This is because of their ease of availability, rich in nutrients and less demanding husbandry.

The leaves are normally mashed with potatoes, maize, beans and bananas to make a delicious meal.

In Tanzania, pumpkin leaves, peanut butter, onion, chilli and coconut cream are nicely blended to make a soup called ‘M’chicha Wa’nazi’.

In Kenya, ‘Mukimo’ is a delicacy prepared by mixing well cooked maize, peeled potatoes and mashing them together with pumpkin leaves and sometimes boiled pumpkin fruit slices.

In Nigeria, pumpkin leaves are used to make soup, cassava salad, plantain porridge and ‘Asaro or Ebe’ (yam pottage).

Pumpkin leaves are rich in Vitamin A, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium.

The second most important part of pumpkin is its fruit. Immature fruits are cooked as a vegetable, while the mature fruit is sweet and used to make confectionery and beverages, sometimes alcoholic.

The fruit has high beta-carotene content and has a substantial content of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

The pumpkin fruit is a good weaning food when mashed together with salmon and broccoli or any other vegetables.

In addition the fruit can be baked by cutting it into two halves, scooping out seeds and placing the hollow side down in a big tray followed by baking in an oven.

Though pumpkin seeds are nutritionally important and have strong medicinal value they are most often inadvertently thrown away.

Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas are small, flat, green and edible with a rich nutty flavour.

They contain curcubitacins which fight off intestine parasites and are used conventionally as a remedy of tapeworms.

Pumpkin seeds are high in protein to the extent that a gram of protein from pumpkin seeds contains the same amount of essential amino acid called tryptophan as a glass of milk.

However, seeds from fluted pumpkins in fresh form are known to contain antinutrients that limit the availability of the protein to humans.

Fermentation or germination of these seeds for up to five days lowers the anti-nutrients making protein available and increasing the nutritive value.

A domestic way of preparing seeds is roasting. After scooping the seeds from the pumpkin fruit, they are boiled and drained. The seeds are placed in a roasting pan with some oil and baked in an oven.

Pumpkin seeds contain omega 3 fatty acids, Magnesium and Iron in addition to high levels of Zinc, Phosphorous, Potassium and Copper.

In addition to these nutrients, pumpkin seed is a very good source of edible oil which is high in oxidative value making it good for domestic and industrial use.

It is also high in the good fats (unsaturated fats), linoleic, oleic acid and Vitamin E making it an healthy alternative to conventional cooking fats.

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  • Isaac W. Ofosu July 20, 2012, 10:41 am

    I am worried about the oxalate levels of pumpkin leaves since they can precipitate calcium oxalate, the main cause of kidney stones. But can fermentation processes be used to eliminate oxalate without compromising the other good stuff? Can we then take the pumpkin in its infusions as tea? Or can we take them as enema? I think research can be directed towards these areas.

    Isaac W. Ofosu

    Snr Lecturer,
    Food Chemistry and Toxicology
    Dept. of Food Science and Technology,
    KNUST, Kumasi-Ghana