Pumpkin are classically associated with Autumn thanks to the tradition of using them to make Halloween lanterns. But despite pumpkin being a delicious, healthy and versatile seasonal vegetable, the majority of people buy them to carve into lanterns and then throw away afterwards. In fact, according to last year’s Guardian, a whopping 8 million pumpkins were binned after Halloween last year. What a waste!

What is pumpkin?

Pumpkin is technically a fruit but usually used as a vegetable. Pumpkins are a type of and were cultivated from squash. There are lots of different varieties of pumpkin and squash. I am referring to ‘pumpkins’ in this post but pumpkin and squash are very similar and you can use them interchangeably in recipes.

What’s good about pumpkin?

Pumpkin and squash are an excellent source of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene (named after carrots which are also an excellent source) is what gives orange coloured vegetables their pigment. It is converted into vitamin A in the body – one of our most important antioxidants. We need vitamin A for our immune system and skin and eye health. Studies show eating foods high in beta-carotene might reduce the risk of some cancers like prostrate and colon cancer, protect against heart disease and delay ageing.

Pumpkins and squash are also an excellent source of vitamin C and potassium. They are low in calories but high in fibre. Their seeds are also nutrient dense: a source of omega 3 essential fatty acids, selenium, zinc, magnesium, B vitamins and more beta-carotene amongst other things.

Where should I buy pumpkin?

There are lots of different varieties of pumpkin and squash. The ones in the supermarket are often quite tasteless – specifically grown as large as possible for lantern making. Check out your local farmers’ market or good quality produce store for smaller and much tastier varieties.

How can I prepare pumpkin?

If you’ve ever carved a Halloween lantern, you’ll know pumpkins aren’t the easiest things in the world to cut through. It becomes so much easier if you cook them first. If you want to eat the skin (edible at least on the smaller varieties – it gets tougher as the pumpkin gets bigger), give them a scrub first. Then stab with a knife in a couple of places and bake in the oven until soft (how long will vary on the size!). You’ll find them very easy to chop up once cooled a little. Personally I eat the skin and seeds too but you can just eat the flesh if you prefer.

What can I do with pumpkin?

Pumpkins are really versatile; they go far beyond lantern making. Here are a few ideas:

  • Chop them into chunks and put in the fridge to chuck in salads. I often keep cooked vegetables like this in the fridge for my work lunchbox each day.
  • Make pumpkin soup. Add red lentils for protein, along with onion, vegetable stock and fresh ginger for a bit of spice. Simmer for half an hour until the lentils are soft and blend.
  • Blend the flesh into pumpkin purée. This can be used for all sorts of recipes, sweet and savoury. You may have noticed it in American recipes.
  • Use it in recipes like this one for a healthy and vegan friendly take on macaroni cheese.