Pumpkins are actually a squash, but to paraphrase Shakespeare, a pumpkin by any other name would still taste as sweet.
In fact, in Italy, the pumpkin and all winter squashes are lumped together under the same name: zucca. Pumpkins and their hearty and harder squash cousins all belong to the gourd family (the plant family known as Cucurbitaceaea, a group that includes more than 900 species).
While there are varieties found around the world, many have been cultivated by native peoples of the Americas.
These are plants that have traveled the world; Christopher Columbus took pumpkins back to Europe, and Portuguese explorers carried them to Cambodia where one variety, Cambodia abóbora, made its way to Japan where its name was shortened to Japanese kabobora or kabocha, also called Japanese pumpkin.
In the US, we tend to think of pumpkins primarily as Jack-o’-lanterns or for use in sweet treats like pumpkin pies, bread, pancakes, custard, and those delicious and moist breakfast muffins.
In France, they are frequent ingredients in savory dishes, and in the Ukraine, they are the ultimate kiss-off: potential brides traditionally used them as a way to say no to their suitors’ proposals. It was believed that pumpkins could help increase a man’s virility, so the gifting of a pumpkin was a strong hint to up his manhood.
The bright yellow-orange flesh of pumpkins and winter squash is rich in carotenoids like alpha and beta carotenes. The body uses carotenoids as the precursors to produce vitamin A, which is essential for healthy eyes, skin, hair, lungs, and immune function.
Pumpkins are also good sources of iron, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and the dark orange carotenoid called lutein, which is important for prostate and heart health.
Pumpkin’s sweet, nutty seeds, also known as pepitas, are rich in protein, minerals, essential fatty acids, and the natural phytochemical known as phytosterol.
Feast on Pumpkin
Given the colors, varieties, health benefits, and plentitude of squashes available during the winter months, try using your hearty and heart-warming winter squash (and pepitas) in one of these surprising festive suggestions:
Seeds and Trail Mix
Place raw seeds on a sheet pan, sprinkle with sea salt, and bake in the oven at 350°F for 20 minutes or more until they are done to your liking. Toasted seeds have a pale and golden or toasty brown color.
Combine toasted pumpkin seeds with raw cacao nibs, fruit-juice sweetened cranberries, sunflower seeds, and a sprinkling of cayenne pepper to make an autumn trail mix.
Roast acorn squash halves or squash chunks with pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, or other warming spices and a drizzle of agave nectar for a sweet, simple dessert. It’s also great pureed.
In a blender, puree roasted, sweetened squash chunks with soy milk or yogurt and ice, season with pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and/or ginger, and sweeten with additional honey, agave nectar, or stevia to taste for a healthy homemade pumpkin pie smoothie.
Roast pumpkin halves with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper, then scoop out the flesh, cook it with vegetable broth, curry seasoning, and grated fresh ginger. Purée, and then return to the heat and warm with some luxurious coconut milk for a silky curried pumpkin soup.
For more of our ideas, see our “Easily Adaptable Pumpkin Soup” Recipe. Or, if curried pumpkin has caught your interest, we’ve got an Asian-style pumpkin curry recipe just for you.
Cut up chunks of butternut or kabocha squash and roast with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper until you can gently pierce it with a fork. Let cool and place atop salad greens with pomegranate seeds, walnuts, and blue or goat cheese, and drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette.
For a hearty yet vegan replacement for the comfort of mac ‘n cheese that’s also gluten free, roast butternut squash halves with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Meanwhile, cook quinoa or rice in salted vegetable broth. Once the squash is fork tender, scoop the flesh from the peel and mix into the cooked rice/quinoa. Drizzle with additional olive oil, taste and adjust seasoning for salt and pepper, and enjoy. Also check out our other squash based mac-n-cheese recipe.
Three Sisters Veggie Stew
For a simple weeknight stew, consider the Three Sisters, a Native American staple traditionally planted together. The beans grow up the corn stalks and supply the soil with a source of nitrogen while squash is planted in between to keep out the weeds and provide shade for the corn’s shallow roots.
In a large skillet, sauté a chopped onion and a couple cloves of garlic in olive oil until tender, then add chunks of steamed or cooked squash with a can of rinsed, drained beans of your choice, and fresh or frozen corn kernels. Add broth or water to just cover.
Season with salt, pepper, and dried sage and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the flavors marry and the stew becomes thick and moist. Serve with fried or fresh sage as garnish.
Adding sweet, roasted pumpkin puree (or really any type of winter squash) to a batch of homemade hummus makes a delicious seasonal appetizer to share with your guests.
Create an antiaging facial mask rich in vitamin A to help exfoliate the skin. This acts much like retinol, but without any harsh chemicals. Pumpkin helps to soothe, exfoliate, and moisturize the skin, especially when combined with honey, and is beneficial for sensitive skin.
Use canned or cooked pumpkin, or collect some of the raw flesh when you scrape out the seeds.
If using raw pumpkin, mash with a mortar and pestle, or use a small food processor to puree, drizzle in half as much honey for added moisture, and add a little yogurt or milk for additional exfoliation (from the lactic acid content). Apply to clean, dry skin and relax for about 15 minutes while it takes effect, then rinse off with cool water.
Simplest of all, use your pumpkin and colorful winter squashes as a still life or centerpiece for your fall table. They’re gorgeous and they keep for months as long as they’re away from heat and direct sunlight. Or, you can even carve them and fill them with crudités, grapes, or chunks of cheese so that your centerpiece is festive and edible.
How will you bring festive pumpkin dishes to your table? Let us know in the comments!
Also, be sure to check out all of these pumpkin recipes now!
Pumpkin hummus photo by Felicia Lim, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
About Lynne Jaques
Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!
36 thoughts on “Pumpkins and Their Different Uses”
When living in Puerto Rico pumpkins grew abundantly right in my yard, as did many other vegetables and fruit. I often used it in meals. In beans, soups, stews, boiled and mashed, fritters ( a favorite of my son’s and his friends but way to sweet for my liking).
I had never considered using it for smoothies but will have to try it, I knew it had health benefits but did not know until reading it here that pumpkin is a good source of Iron. I am also liking the vegan mac and cheese recipe. Quinoa is a pantry staple in my home and the vegan mac and cheese is something I think I would be great to make on work days as it is pretty simple with out a lot of prep time needed.
I’ve never been a big squash fan – my mother used to love acorn squash roasted with maple syrup, or spaghetti squash with butter and salt, but I would only ever tolerate enough to keep me from getting the evil eye at dinner. As an adult, I’ve tried to resample foods that I detested as a child, and some I’ve grown to enjoy! Not so much the squash, though (though I haven’t given up on it!) I can say, however, that for Christmas my future MIL brought a couple of gooseneck squash pies. Oh MY were they tasty! A much more delicate flavor than pumpkin pie, I think it was really the best way to end a rich Christmas dinner – on a lightly sweet note.
Jen, I’m like you. Those foods that were nasty as a child are now great! Some things are definitely an acquired taste and I can see how cucurbits may be one of those for some people. I’ve got a few foods that I’ve never acquired as taste for. Hominy being the leading example!
These are great ideas. I pick up pumpkins whenever they’re available at our local fruit stand. I think the fresh ones taste better than the canned variety. I would have never thought of using them for a facemask. I usually whip up a big batch of pumpkin soup, I take it to work for lunch and it freezes great.
I never knew that about the Ukraine! What a novel – and… well kind of insulting – way to say nope. I don’t think pumpkin will ever be better than anything other than food though. I happen to love pumpkin soup, seeds, muffins… pretty much anything. I’ll have to try that pumpkin smoothie though – that looks delicious!
To be honest with growing up on a farm I feel silly for not knowing this. I knew it was healthy but I didn’t realize just how healthy pumpkins are! So that was nice to read about. My mom does more of her cooking with squash though. She does squash in the oven, sometimes mashed and even makes a pretty cool soup. Maybe Christmas 2015 I can talk her into making some Pumpkin Pie.
WorkAtHomeGal, try looking at Kobacha – it’s a Koran/Japanese cultivar that is kind of a mixture of both squash and pumkins. Green on the outside but with orange flesh that makes a great soup. Koreans make a very tasty soup out of this with a little sweetener, rice flour for thickener, a few black beans scattered in there, and sometimes they throw in some dried jujubes.
Alright, i confess i had no clue that one can be so creative when it comes to all things pumpkin, all i know about pumpkins is plopping it in my pan and finally it ending on my plate at dinner, what caught my eye and somehow my senses is the pumpkin-pie smoothie, being a fanatic of smoothies, you can bet that has gone down in my long list of smoothies awaiting to be produced…oh, i can’t wait 😉
I have a question off the record…what do i do with the pumpkin seeds…i understand they are very beneficial to the human body…i ate some pumpkin last week and in the process i decided to harvest the seeds..in my mind i thought they’d come in handy but now am clueless…sort of stuck :(…any ideas?…i have read about the seeds and trail mix above …just wondering if there are other ideas to top this one wonderful idea 😉
I had no idea that pumpkins had so many benefits! I definitely want to try the Vegan Mac-N-Cheese. I have been looking for a substitute for mac and cheese since I have been put on a plant-based whole foods diet. I actually made your Chicken Mac-N-Cheese for my husband as a birthday meal but none for myself since it’s not part of my diet. It looked and smelled so good. So I’m really glad I came across this article.
I am very curious about making pumpkin into a face mask. I have been noticing a lot of wrinkles on my face lately, haha!
I also did not know about using these fruits as a face mask. Must be a raw pumpkin used to make the mask? I have only canned right now but will try to get a fresh one just to give it a try. The smoothie even sounds good.
Great article. I should have looked into this first — it’s like all the basics are there. For me, pumpkins were always mysterious things, we had the spaghetti squash, but my mom always prepared that herself. When I carved my Halloween pumpkin, I had no idea how to use any of the inside to make stuff like my friends!
It looks like you can just put “slices” straight to cook and the inside becomes soft.
It really makes me want to go and have a nice pumpkin soup! But I also look forward to trying these different methods. Thanks!
As much as I like roasted pumpkin and pumpkin soup, I have yet to prepare one myself. Love the idea of a vegan mac and cheese, because I do love the dish, but not the calories that go into it. I do like to have vegan days and dishes that require as little work as possible.
I’ve never considered using pumpkin for much of anything outside the kitchen, but the face-mask idea definitely sounds like something to try. I always love when “pumpkin season” rolls around and a little bit of everything features the iconic orange squash. I’ve found myself making more savory recipes with pumpkin recently, like a lightly-salted pan roast treatment. The sweet-savory combination is something my family and I have been exploring more than the classic “sweet” recipes for pumpkin, although the smoothie seems like a fantastic idea.
I’ve always loved pumpkins and squash and since starting to eat and live by paleo principals I have become quite passionate about them. Squash is such a versatile dish. I really recommend spaghetti squash served with a simple butter and garlic “sauce”. So delicious and very healthy. Spaghetti squash has replaced pasta for me. Great blog. Long live pumpkin! I absolutely love fall because of how abundant squash and pumpkin are. I’ll have to figure out a paleo pumpkin pie recipe for this coming year. I sure do miss it.
My absolute favorite thing to do with just about any sort of squash is the simplest method imaginable: roast it with salt and olive oil. I have yet to find any vegetable that doesn’t taste amazing this way; even stuff that’s typically bitter, like broccoli, gets this sweet, caramelized taste after the olive oil and oven treatment. By far my favorite though is butternut squash. Pumpkin is up there, too!
You bring out so many uses for the pumpkin here, this is interesting and helpful. I love that I can make an exfoliating mask with it. I am looking forward to trying the recipes; they seem delicious. I have not really cooked pumpkin, but I have eaten some that was solar-cooked with onions and peppers, and it was sooooo good. The sun just brought forth all the flavor. I do like pumpkin seeds too and the idea for a trail mix. Thanks for sharing and giving references. It is amazing how so much nutrition is in something we only used for carving out a face.
I absolutely love pumpkin, so I loved reading all of the benefits and the history too! That smoothie looks absolutely amazing! I have to admit that I’ve only ever made pie and cheesecake, and that’s the most of my cooking experience with pumpkins, but it can definitely be so much healthier, as your post shows 🙂 I’m definitely going to have to try that smoothie!
Great article! I have a question: It seems like you can utilize every aspect of a pumpkin except the stubborn stem. Is there any culinary usage you can get from the stem. Perhaps, in a broth? If not in a food related way perhaps something else? I like to utilize everything I possibly can
Wow, pumpkin can be used in so many different ways! One of my favorites is roasting it in the oven with herbs and mixing it through pasta with a cream and goats cheese sauce. I top it off with walnuts for some crunch. Oh gosh, I’m getting hungry just typing this out!
That that sounds….very very good! I’m going to have to throw those ingredients together and see what I can come up with.
Since I’m a big fan of pumpkin already, I’ve seen a lot of these suggestions before. But! I’ve never heard of the vegan mac-n-cheese idea. That sounds really delicious, and really creative. I would have never thought to use it as a creamy sauce substitute. What a great idea! Thanks for sharing. Off to get a pumkpin…
Until this year, thanks to a friend I now know that all forms of squash are edible. I have seriously been living my life thinking some of the weird looking ones were strictly for decor. The greatest joy I get from now knowing the truth is that there is a unique yet delicious taste to all squash. Now I have another joy, which is all these wonderful recipes to try!
Great tips. I love pumpkins. their subtle sweetness is always a welcome addition to savory dishes and creamy soups. On top of their delicious properties, they are also some of the healthiest vegetables around. You can’t go wrong when serving pumpkin based dishes and desserts.
Wow, I’ve never thought that you can do so much with pumpking. That’s neat!
I’ve only ever used them to make pumpkin pie, soup and carve them out when the Halloween season came around.
Those recipes seem nice!
This post makes me want pumpkin soup right now. Or pumpkin spice cake. I never would have thought to use it with quinoa for a mac ’n’ cheese alternative, though. It sounds absolutely delicious, I’ll have to try that out when it’s squash season again. A pumpkin face mask sounds luxurious too!
So many great ideas in one article. The three sisters stew sounds delicious and fairly easy to prepare. I’ve never thought of using pumpkin or squash in a face mask, but it sounds beneficial, and I’d better prepare dinner ahead of time, because this is one of my favorite fruits, and one of the reasons I so look forward to Fall. I can’t wait to roast some pumpkin seeds in a few months.
I laughed when I read that about the rejection of a proposal with pumpkins in France. I’m guilty of only using pumpkins for dessert and Jack-o’-lanterns, but this opened up my mind towards new possibilities, especially the face mask. This was an excellent read overall, and I learned quite a bit. Thank you for the article!
I love Pumpkin pies my husband would rather have sweet potato pie instead. I’m just in love with the pumpkin there are so many things that can be done with them from eating to decorating I mean it really does keep on giving. How lucky are we to be able to go to the pumpkin patch and pick our very own.
When I was a little kid I used to hate pumpkins from the bottom of my guts. I couldn’t stand them but I actually never got to taste them in a correct way. Once my mother made some pumpkin pie I thought I’d give it another go, and I’ve been hooked every since. I now love to make pumpkin pie and soup, especially when it’s Halloween.
It’s always good to learn more uses for these guys. They will be overabundant soon, so I can’t wait to try some of these ideas. I’ve always love preparing and eating the seeds.
I’m always on the lookout for new uses, because I don’t like wasting the ones I decorate. I also know people who grow them, so I usually end up with more than my share.
Thanks for this.
Wonderful recipes! I am a pumpkin-a-holic this time of year. If any gardeners are reading this, try growing the “jerruhale” pumpkin;, they are green with a light gray “patina” and they are SO sweet and delicious!
I love the smoothie. Pumpkin also goes lovely in risotto which I make in a pressure cooker.
And my favorite fall breakfast: pumpkin pie in a cup:
1/2 c. oatmeal
1/2 c. pumpkin
1T. Maple syrup or honey
Pumpkin pie spice to taste
Pour it in a mug and microwave for 1.5-2 minutes.
Enjoy with more syrup and spray whipped cream for the full effect!
Thank you for your fall pumpkin focus–I am really enjoying all of your ideas!
Well, it is all the rage right now. Everything I see, seems to have “pumpkin” in the name. I get that it’s the season for it, but wow. It’s everywhere. I like it and all, but I’d rather try some of these ideas rather than go out and buy a bunch of (probably artificially) flavored stuff.
That first picture looks so pretty, too. I should totally display some things that way. What a festive touch for a holiday meal.
Pumpkins are so healthy, and delicious. I used to hate them for some reason, as a kid, but now I love them and can’t get enough when they are in season. My girlfriend made pumpkin cheesecake for Halloween, I was skeptical at first, but it turned out really good.
I find it interesting that there are so many ways to use this incredible fruit. I knew about pumpkin soup and pie of course but the smoothie really surprised me. I have to try it out. Thanks for sharing this.
Pumpkins and really any type of squash are surprisingly useful for extended soups without adding a ton of meat. If you cube the pumpkin into small squares, you can add it to any chicken or beef soup and it will absorb so much meat flavor, and the texture can be similar to something like chicken breast, that those eating the food will not even know it is not chicken they are eating. It is great for big events where you are making a ton of soup and an´t afford a lot of meat for it.