The shops are stocked with pumpkins and squash, ready for carving into Halloween lanterns, but make sure you don’t let their nutrient-rich flesh go to waste.
Part of the cucurbita family, which also includes marrows and courgettes, they’re great value and can be used to make a variety of warming, wholesome autumn dishes.
Find out how to choose, store and eat them:
Choose clean, unblemished, heavy fruits. The very large ones tend to be too stringy to eat, so choose smaller varieties, which have a sweeter, firmer flesh.
Store them in a cool, well-ventilated place for up to one month.
Eat an 80g portion of pumpkin and it counts as one of your five-a-day.
Capture the flavour
Make soup by whizzing cooked onion, garlic and pumpkin with reduced-salt stock. Flavour with chilli and chopped fresh coriander to taste. (Small hollowed-out pumpkins make a great serving bowl!)
Halve and scoop out the middle of courgettes or marrows. Stuff with either cooked quinoa or brown rice, chopped veg, cooked lean meat and/or nuts, then bake. Get our recipe for baby pumpkins with quinoa stuffing.
Peel and cut pumpkin or squash into wedges, toss with herbs, garlic and a little oil, then roast. Serve with your Sunday roast instead of potatoes.
Add cubes of pumpkin or squash to casseroles or curries – they absorb the flavours of the dish. Try our squash and lentil curry.
For a gluten-free swap, cook spaghetti squash and serve with bolognese in place of spaghetti.
Add puréed pumpkin or squash to spicy bread recipes.
How does your body use the nutrients?
Pumpkins are rich in carotenoids, the naturally occurring plant compounds that give the fruits their orange hue – in particular, they’re a good source of beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin and alpha-carotene.
Once consumed, the body converts these carotenoids into vitamin A, a nutrient that’s important for maintaining healthy skin and a strong immune system – good news in autumn, when coughs, colds and sickness bugs are also in season.
Carotenoids are also powerful antioxidants, so protect against free radical damage that can lead to disease. They may help to reduce the risk of certain cancers, although scientists agree more research is needed before definite conclusions can be drawn. What they can deduce, however, is that it’s far better to get carotenoids such as beta-carotene from the food we eat than through taking supplements.
In fact, research shows beta-carotene consumed in supplement form increases the risk of lung cancer in smokers. But when packaged with other nutrients in food, carotenoids seem to protect our health.