Grower = Ward, Qld
It may just be an old wives' tale, but it is said that Jap pumpkin derived its name from growers who weren't sure of how to market it, so they chose the acronym of Just Another Pumpkin! The Jap pumpkin is similar to a sweet potato in texture and taste – it has a nutty flavour which is ideal for roasts and cakes.
But, kabocha – also known as Japanese pumpkin – is the undeniable, and oft overlooked, favorite this season. If you’ve encountered this unassuming gem, it has most likely been that buttery component of a Thai curry you just couldn’t place or a veggie tempura deight. It’s time to make kabocha the star that it deserves to be. Here are eight reasons we think you should wrap yourself up in a kabocha blanket this winter. (Well, not really.)
1. Kabocha is like butternut squash‘s sadly underappreciated sister. A single cup of kabocha has forty calories compared to butternut squash’s 60, and has less than half of the carbs of butternut squash (7 grams vs. 16 grams). But, it tastes better… the perfect substitute.
2. Kabocha squash is an excellent source of beta-carotene, owing to it’s bright orange flesh, which can be converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is important for healthy white blood cells, good immunity and for vibrant eyes, skin and hair. A single serving of kabocha squash provides 70% of the day’s recommended requirement!
3. Kabocha is also a good source of iron, vitamin C and some B vitamins.
4. In addition, it contains fiber, which we could all use a little more of. To boost the fiber content even more, cook it with the edible skins on.
5. Which brings us to the next great advantage: You can eat the peel! And it is soft and delicious.
6. Who needs cornstarch? Thicken your soups with kabocha. Simply take a fork to your cooked kabocha and mash it up until you reach your desired consistency.
7. Kabocha is a dieter’s delight. Make a whole pot of kabocha stew mixed in with other veggies (I like leeks and fennel) and eat it for the whole week. You’re bound to drop a few, so long as it’s not accompanied by bread slathered in butter.
8. Can we say versatile? Kabocha can be roasted in the oven simply (perhaps with a dusting of cinnamon) or can create a creamy base for any soup. The world of desserts can also be explored with this ‘pumpkin’.
WHAT ARE PUMPKINS?
As a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, pumpkins grow on a vine that creeps along the ground, similar to other members of the same family, such as cucumbers and melons.
Fruit or Vegetable???
In botanical terms pumpkins are a fruit, just like tomatoes. However they are normally referred to as a vegetable as this basically denotes their culinary use. Pumpkins are great roasted, boiled, steamed, used in soups, pies and even scones and cakes. Pumpkin seeds contain large amounts of the “good oils” along with zinc (important in men’s prostate health), so are an ideal and very nutritious snack.
HISTORY OF PUMPKINS: It is thought that pumpkins, in general, originated in Central and South America. The name however is an adaption of Pepõn, a Greek word meaning large melon. Native American Indians used pumpkins as a staple in their diets, cooking them in a number of ways including roasting over a campfire, and even drying them and grinding them into a pumpkin flour.
After seeing the Indians using pumpkins, the European explorers took seeds of this amazing plant back home. However, when first introduced to Europe they were used as pig fodder and not used for human consumption, but eventually they became part of a staple diet. Since then pumpkins have become one of the most widely eaten foods around the world, with Australians being right up there amongst the biggest consumers of pumpkins.
Jap Pumpkins: As there are countless different types of pumpkins in all manner of sizes, colours and tastes, we are going to concentrate on our favourite, Jap pumpkins. Japanese pumpkin is a collective term used only for varieties of C. moschata originally grown in Japan. In Australia the most popular cultivar is known as Kenʼs Special which was selected in North Queensland. It is marketed as Japanese pumpkin in most Australian retail fruit and vegetable outlets. * (extract from ‘Kabocha and Japanese Pumpkin in Australia – a Report for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation’, by Dr Wendy Morgan and Professor David Midmore, June 2003). So the name ‘Jap’ does come from “Japanese” pumpkin ….. not “Just A Pumpkin” as some would suggest! Ken’s special is a high yielding, sweet tasting, versatile pumpkin. For the rest of this article we will be referring to these Ken’s Special (also known as Kent) pumpkins simply as Jap Pumpkins.
Conventionally grown Jap Pumpkins: Pumpkins produced conventionally are often grown directly following another vegetable crop. This means they are going into soil that has grown a crop like potatoes or carrots or broccoli etc, so the paddock has often been recently treated with insecticides, fertilisers, fungicides, weedicides specific to those crops. The seed is treated with fungicides and insecticides to protect it in the soil. The growing pumpkin vines are often sprayed for pumpkin beetle and whitefly with a fairly powerful insecticide. They are sometimes also fertilised with petroleum based fertilisers. As they are very susceptible to mildews, they are often treated with fungicides as they are growing, particularly in humid coastal regions. Selective weedicides are also sometimes used to control grasses in the pumpkin crop. Jap pumpkins are an open pollinated plant so they need the bees and others to pollinate. They have both male and female flowers on the one vine. Some insecticides have been blamed for the decline in the bee population so conventional farmers sometimes need to bring in bee hives in order to ensure that their pumpkin plants are adequately pollinated.
Organically grown Jap Pumpkins: Organically grown Jap pumpkins are produced in a clean organic paddock, usually following a green mulch crop, which provides the in-soil mulch and the fertiliser for the pumpkin plants. If any extra nutrients are needed then “registered inputs” such as organic blood and bone can be used. The seed is not treated with insecticides and fungicides and weeds are managed by mechanical means and hand weeding. Insect pests are managed by having a balanced environment which supports predatory birds and insects and if mildews etc become a problem then natural milk sprays and other organic preparations can be used. Being strong and healthy, organic plants are often less susceptible to diseases and even insect attack. In an organic system bees and other natural pollinators are living naturally in a good healthy environment, so pollination is not usually an issue.
Why buy “certified” organic Jap Pumpkins: Avoid chemical residues: As previously outlined, purchasing certified organic jap pumpkins ensures that you are not exposed to all the chemicals like insecticides, fungicides, weedicides and petroleum based fertilisers. Customers also find that organic pumpkins, when grown well, have a better flavour and are very “meaty”, containing lots of flesh and not too much seed cavity or water.
Full of nutrition: It has been reported that the vegetables today grown the ‘conventional (chemical) way’ might actually contain only 20% of the nutrients that the vegies did in our grandparents day. There always seems to be a debate about the nutritional value of organic compared to conventional, but whatever the statistics many reports indicate that your body gets its daily nutrient requirement with less volume intake when eating organically.
Better for the environment: Vegetables grown organically are so much more environmentally friendly than those produced in a chemical system. The birds, bees, predatory insects, soil life and so on, are all living in balance.
Remember that “Certified Organic” is your guarantee. Look for the logo!!!