A pumpkin is a cultivar of a squash plant, most commonly of Cucurbita pepo, that is round, with smooth, slightly ribbed skin, and deep yellow to orange coloration. The thick shell contains the seeds and pulp. Some exceptionally large cultivars of squash with similar appearance have also been derived from Cucurbita maxima.
Native to North America, pumpkins are widely grown for commercial use and are used both in food and recreation. Pumpkin pie, for instance, is a traditional part of Thanksgiving meals in Canada and the United States, and pumpkins are frequently carved as jack-o'-lanterns for decoration around Halloween, although commercially canned pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie fillings are usually made from different kinds of winter squash than the ones used for jack-o'-lanterns.
Etymology and terminology
The word pumpkin originates from the word pepon (πέπων), which is Greek for "large melon", something round and large. The French adapted this word to pompon, which the British changed to pumpion and to the later American colonists became known as pumpkin.
The term pumpkin has no agreed upon botanical or scientific meaning, and is used interchangeably with "squash" and "winter squash" in some areas. In many areas, including North America and the United Kingdom, pumpkin traditionally refers to only certain round, orange varieties of winter squash, predominantly derived from Cucurbita pepo, while in Australian English, pumpkin can refer to winter squash of any appearance.
Since some squash share the same botanical classifications as pumpkins, the names are frequently used interchangeably. One often-used botanical classification relies on the characteristics of the stems: pumpkin stems are more rigid, prickly, and angular (with an approximate five-degree angle) than squash stems, which are generally softer, more rounded, and more flared where joined to the fruit. Pumpkin fruits are a type of botanical berry known as a pepo.
All pumpkins are winter squash: mature fruit of certain species in the genus Cucurbita. Characteristics commonly used to define "pumpkin" include smooth and slightly ribbed skin, and deep yellow to orange color. Circa 2005, white pumpkins had become increasingly popular in the United States. Other colors, including dark green (as with some oilseed pumpkins), also exist.
Pumpkins are grown all around the world for a variety of reasons ranging from agricultural purposes (such as animal feed) to commercial and ornamental sales. Of the seven continents, only Antarctica is unable to produce pumpkins; the biggest international producers of pumpkins include the United States, Canada, Mexico, India, and China. The traditional American pumpkin used for jack-o-lanterns is the Connecticut Field variety.
In the United States
As one of the most popular crops in the United States, 680,000,000 kilograms (1.5 billion pounds) of pumpkins are produced each year. The top pumpkin-producing states include Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California.
According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, 95% of the U.S. crop intended for processing is grown in Illinois. Nestlé, operating under the brand name Libby's, produces 85% of the processed pumpkin in the United States, at their plant in Morton, Illinois. In the fall of 2009, rain in Illinois devastated the Nestlé crop, resulting in a shortage affecting the entire country during the Thanksgiving holiday season.
Pumpkins are a warm-weather crop that is usually planted in early July. The specific conditions necessary for growing pumpkins require that soil temperatures 8 centimetres (3 in) deep are at least 15.5 °C (60 °F) and soil that holds water well. Pumpkin crops may suffer if there is a lack of water or because of cold temperatures (in this case, below 18 °C or 65 °F; frost can be detrimental), and sandy soil with poor water retention or poorly drained soils that become waterlogged after heavy rain. Pumpkins are, however, rather hardy, and even if many leaves and portions of the vine are removed or damaged, the plant can very quickly re-grow secondary vines to replace what was removed.
Pumpkins produce both a male and female flower; honeybees play a significant role in fertilization. Pumpkins have historically been pollinated by the native squash bee Peponapis pruinosa, but this bee has declined, probably at least in part to pesticide (imidacloprid) sensitivity, and today most commercial plantings are pollinated by honeybees. One hive per acre (4,000 m2 per hive, or 5 hives per 2 hectares) is recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If there are inadequate bees for pollination, gardeners often have to hand pollinate. Inadequately pollinated pumpkins usually start growing but abort before full development.
"Giant pumpkins" are a large squash (within the group of common squash Cucurbita maxima) that can exceed 1 tonne in weight. The variety arose from the large squash of South America through the efforts of botanical societies and enthusiast farmers.
See #Pumpkin festivals and competitions below.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||109 kJ (26 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||0.5 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.||
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||
|†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.|
In a 100-gram amount, raw pumpkin provides 110 kilojoules (26 kilocalories) of food energy and is an excellent source (20% or more the Daily Value, DV) of provitamin A beta-carotene and vitamin A (53% DV) (table). Vitamin C is present in moderate content (11% DV), but no other nutrients are in significant amounts (less than 10% DV, table). Pumpkin is 92% water, 6.5% carbohydrate, 0.1% fat and 1% protein (table).
Pumpkins are very versatile in their uses for cooking. Most parts of the pumpkin are edible, including the fleshy shell, the seeds, the leaves, and even the flowers. In the United States and Canada, pumpkin is a popular Halloween and Thanksgiving staple. Pumpkin purée is sometimes prepared and frozen for later use.
When ripe, the pumpkin can be boiled, steamed, or roasted. In its native North America, it is a very important, traditional part of the autumn harvest, eaten mashed and making its way into soups and purees. Often, it is made into pie, various kinds of which are a traditional staple of the Canadian and American Thanksgiving holidays. In Canada, Mexico, the United States, Europe and China, the seeds are often roasted and eaten as a snack.
Pumpkins that are still small and green may be eaten in the same way as squash or zucchini. In the Middle East, pumpkin is used for sweet dishes; a well-known sweet delicacy is called halawa yaqtin. In South Asian countries such as India, pumpkin is cooked with butter, sugar, and spices in a dish called kadu ka halwa. Pumpkin is used to make sambar in Udupi cuisine. In Guangxi province, China, the leaves of the pumpkin plant are consumed as a cooked vegetable or in soups. In Australia and New Zealand, pumpkin is often roasted in conjunction with other vegetables. In Japan, small pumpkins are served in savory dishes, including tempura. In Myanmar, pumpkins are used in both cooking and desserts (candied). The seeds are a popular sunflower seed substitute. In Thailand, small pumpkins are steamed with custard inside and served as a dessert. In Vietnam, pumpkins are commonly cooked in soups with pork or shrimp. In Italy, it can be used with cheeses as a savory stuffing for ravioli. Also, pumpkin can be used to flavor both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages.
In the southwestern United States and Mexico, pumpkin and squash flowers are a popular and widely available food item. They may be used to garnish dishes, and they may be dredged in a batter then fried in oil. Pumpkin leaves are a popular vegetable in the Western and central regions of Kenya; they are called seveve, and are an ingredient of mukimo, respectively, whereas the pumpkin itself is usually boiled or steamed. The seeds are popular with children who roast them on a pan before eating them. Pumpkin leaves are also eaten in Zambia, where they are called chibwabwa and are boiled and cooked with groundnut paste as a side dish.
Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are edible and nutrient-rich. They are about 1.5 cm (0.5 in) long, flat, asymmetrically oval, light green in color and usually covered by a white husk, although some pumpkin varieties produce seeds without them. Pumpkin seeds are a popular snack that can be found hulled or semi-hulled at most grocery stores. Per ounce serving, pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein, magnesium, copper and zinc.
Pumpkin seed oil
Pumpkin seed oil, a thick oil pressed from roasted pumpkin seeds, appears red or green in color depending on the oil layer thickness, container properties and hue shift of the observer's vision. When used for cooking or as a salad dressing, pumpkin seed oil is generally mixed with other oils because of its robust flavor. Pumpkin seed oil contains fatty acids, such as oleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid.
Canned pumpkin is often recommended by veterinarians as a dietary supplement for dogs and cats that are experiencing certain digestive ailments such as constipation, diarrhea, or hairballs. The high fiber content aids proper digestion.
Pumpkins have been used as folk medicine by Native Americans to treat intestinal worms and urinary ailments, and this Native American remedy was adopted by American doctors in the early nineteenth century as an anthelmintic for the expulsion of worms. In Germany and southeastern Europe, seeds of C. pepo were also used as folk remedies to treat irritable bladder and benign prostatic hyperplasia. In China, C. moschata seeds were also used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of the parasitic disease schistosomiasis and for the expulsion of tape worms. Chinese studies have found that a combination of pumpkin seed and areca nut extracts was effective in the expulsion of Taenia spp. tapeworms in over 89% of cases.
Pumpkins are commonly carved into decorative lanterns called jack-o'-lanterns for the Halloween season in North America. Throughout Britain and Ireland, there is a long tradition of carving lanterns from vegetables, particularly the turnip, mangelwurzel, or swede. The practice of carving pumpkins for Halloween originated from an Irish myth about a man named "Stingy Jack". The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which are both readily available and much larger – making them easier to carve than turnips. Not until 1837, does jack-o'-lantern appear as a term for a carved vegetable lantern, and the carved pumpkin lantern association with Halloween is recorded in 1866.
In the United States, the carved pumpkin was first associated with the harvest season in general, long before it became an emblem of Halloween. In 1900, an article on Thanksgiving entertaining recommended a lit jack-o'-lantern as part of the festivities that encourage kids and families to join together to make their own jack-o'-lanterns.
Association of pumpkins with harvest time and pumpkin pie at Canadian and American Thanksgiving reinforce its iconic role. Starbucks turned this association into marketing with its pumpkin spice latte, introduced in 2003. This has led to a notable trend in pumpkin and spice flavored food products in North America. This is despite the fact that North Americans rarely buy whole pumpkins to eat other than when carving jack-o'-lanterns. Illinois farmer Sarah Frey is called "the Pumpkin Queen of America" and sells around five million pumpkins annually, predominantly for use as lanterns.
Pumpkin chunking is a competitive activity in which teams build various mechanical devices designed to throw a pumpkin as far as possible. Catapults, trebuchets, ballistas and air cannons are the most common mechanisms. Some pumpkin chunkers breed and grow special varieties of pumpkin under specialized conditions to improve the pumpkin's chances of surviving a throw.
Pumpkin festivals and competitions
"Giant pumpkins" are orange variants of the giant squash, Cucurbita maxima. Growers of these "pumpkins" often compete to see whose pumpkins are the most massive. Festivals are often dedicated to the pumpkin and these competitions.
The record for the world's heaviest pumpkin, 1,190.5 kg (2,624.6 lb), was established in Belgium in 2016.
Folklore and fiction
There is a strong connection in folklore and popular culture between pumpkins and the supernatural. Famous examples include the following:
- A commonplace motif of people being turned into pumpkins by witches.
- The jack-o-lantern custom discussed above, which connects to Halloween lore about warding off demons.
- In the folk tale Cinderella, the fairy godmother turns a pumpkin into a carriage, but at midnight it reverts to a pumpkin.
- Ferriol, María; Picó, Belén (2007). "3". Handbook of Plant Breeding: Vegetables I. New York: Springer. p. 317. ISBN 978-0-387-72291-7.
The common terms "pumpkin", "squash", "gourd", "cushaw", "ayote", "zapallo", "calabaza", etc. are often applied indiscriminately to different cultivated species of the New World genus Cucurbita L. (Cucurbitaceae): C. pepo L., C. maxima Duchesne, C. moschata Duchesne, C. argyrosperma C. Huber and C. ficifolia Bouché.
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They continue to be popular choices today as carved lanterns in Scotland and Northern Ireland, although the British purchased a million pumpkins for Halloween in 2004
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Hide it [the great carbuncle] under thy cloak, say'st thou? Why, it will gleam through the holes, and make thee look like a jack-o'-lantern!
- Daily News (Kingston, Ontario), November 1, 1866:
- The old time custom of keeping up Hallowe'en was not forgotten last night by the youngsters of the city. They had their maskings and their merry-makings, and perambulated the streets after dark in a way [that] was no doubt amusing to themselves. There was a great sacrifice of pumpkins from which to make transparent heads and face, lighted up by the unfailing two inches of tallow candle.
- The Day We Celebrate: Thanksgiving Treated Gastronomically and Socially, The New York Times, Nov. 24, 1895, p. 27. "Odd Ornaments for Table," The New York Times, Oct. 21, 1900, p. 12.
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