All things pumpkin: part two

Last post, I told you what to ditch/replace to improve your seasonal treats, but the vegetable doesn't deserve a totally bad rap.

Here's what you can love about pumpkin (when it's not covered in icing):

  • The orange color is derived from beta carotene, which provides vitamin A to the body and is good for eyesight and immunity
  • It also packs some vitamin C, Iron, Calcium, Manganese + Potassium (more than a banana!)
  • Pumpkin is a member of the squash family - doesn't everyone love it's sister spaghetti squash?
  • The seeds have an average of 12g fiber per 1 cup - you'll feel fuller, longer using them as a crunchy, satisfying snack

Get in the kitchen: roasted pumpkin seeds

Roasting pumpkin seeds yourself is an easy, hands-on activity for kiddos. Once you've carved the pumpkin and scooped out the seeds, rinse and roast for about 20-30 minutes to dry. Then, toss in 2 teaspoons of butter and a pinch of salt, bake in a single layer (on foil, for easy clean up) at 300 degrees for 45 mins or until golden brown. That's the traditional method, but there's lots of ways to change up your pumpkin seed flavor:

  • For a spiced seed, add in 1/8 teaspoon garlic salt and 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce.
  • For a deeper profile, mix in 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (skip the salt)
  • Feeling Italian? Mix with dried Oregano and parmesan 
  • For something a little different, skip the salt and use butter and 1 1/2 teaspoons ranch seasoning mix - yum!
  • For my southwestern friends, mix butter, 1 teaspoon lime juice, 1 teaspoon taco seasoning and a tablespoon of fresh cilantro
  • For a barbecue feel, toss in 2 teaspoons brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of chipotle chile powder and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Everything is better with bacon - cook 3-4 slices separately and crumble over the roasted seeds
  • Make a tasty trail mix: once roasted, combine with dried fruit (cranberries, raisins), almonds and cashews

Bonus: the science behind the craving

Less relevant to nutrition, but equally fascinating, I thought I'd touch on the "why" behind your craving for pumpkin spice, that seemingly only happens a few months out of the year. 

Pumpkin spice isn't really pumpkin (especially in syrup form), it's actually a combination of ground cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, ground allspice and ground cloves. Because these spices are commonly used in home cooking, the scent brings feelings of comfort; perhaps family gatherings, home cooking and warm memories. We learn and create associations with odors over time, and generally speaking, all the associations with pumpkin spice are all very positive. When the spice is created synthetically, it mimics the aroma of butter browning with sugar, giving your senses the illusion of freshly baked pie.

About 80% of flavor comes from smell; largely why when you're sick and congested, nothing tastes or sounds good. That's also why the pumpkin spice smell is strong enough to make us crave and enjoy it.

It's truly marketing genius. The pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks unofficially marks the beginning of fall, and the drink even has its' own verified Twitter account. Since the roll out of the drink by the coffee chain in 2003, there have been more than 200 million cups of PSL sold.

As mentioned above, real pumpkin provides great health benefits, and all spices come from nutrient-packed plants. Enjoy more of the real thing this season, and less of the artificial versions.

Cheers!