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Pumpkin and winter squash

6 types of pumpkin and squash, plus how to buy, store and cook them. 

Pumpkin and winter squash season: 

Crown Pumpkin: Available from February - December, with limited availability in January. 
Butternut Pumpkin: Available from January - November, with limited availability in February.
Buttercup Pumpkin: Available from January - November, with limited availability in February.
Spaghetti Squash: Available year round. 

Roast pumpkin

Scientists believe pumpkins first originated in Northern America about 9000 years ago. It's understood that pumpkins and squash were an historically important staple food among Native Americans. The oldest pumpkin seeds found in Mexico date back to somewhere between 7000-5550 B.C. 

The pumpkin plant is a member of the cucurbitaceae family. Pumpkins are hard skinned, firm fleshed, mature fruit. In New Zealand, they're grown as an annual crop, planted in Spring and harvested in Autumn, just in time to enjoy a wide range of warm, comforting winter recipes. As a food, pumpkin keeps well, so is available all year round here. You'll find that the names 'pumpkin' and 'squash' are used interchangeably, just as the varieties are interchangeable in cooking.

Is Pumpkin a fruit or a vegetable?

You might be surprised to know that in botanical terms, pumpkin and squash are classed as a fruit and not a vegetable. When growing, the plants bear flowers which develop into the seed containing fruit. In nutritional and culinary terms, pumpkins, gourds and squash are universally regarded as a vegetable and eaten as one.

Main types of pumpkin in New Zealand

Winter pumpkin season in New Zealand, offers a diverse range of pumpkin and squash. Below we outline the most popular varieties to be found in your supermarket or fresh produce store.


1. Crown grey pumpkin

Crown pumpkin is distinguished by its unusual blue/grey skin colour which dramatically contrasts with its deep orange flesh. They are one of the larger New Zealand grown varieties, averaging approximately 30cm in diameter and weighing up to 4kg. Their hard skin helps protect the pumpkin whilst being stored and they are usually available all year round. You can buy crown grey pumpkins whole, portioned and as a convenient canned pumpkin.

2. Butternut squash

Butternut squash has a very distinctive, elongated pear shape and is considerably smaller than a Crown pumpkin, so is generally sold whole. The skin is a warm, beige colour with a bright orange flesh. Butternut pumpkin has fewer seeds and below we reveal how you can roast pumpkin seeds. The sweetest variety of winter pumpkins, butternut squash is perfect for roasting, pan frying in a risotto, or making pumpkin soup and a smooth, silky puree.

3. Buttercup pumpkin

Buttercup squash are small, just 15-20cm in diameter, round and squat shaped with a round ridge on the bottom which is sometimes referred to as a turban. Buttercup pumpkins have a dark green skin marked with grey or green vertical markings which is often softer than other squash. Inside, the buttercup's vibrant orange flesh is firm and dense in texture, making it perfect for slow cooked vegetable curries and pumpkin casseroles.One of the sweeter winter squash, Buttercup's texture is smooth and creamy when cooked and is perfect for a pumpkin puree.

4. Spaghetti squash

This bright yellow, cylindrical shaped squash gets its name from the flesh, which when cooked develops strands that look like spaghetti. You can eat it as a gluten free substitute for spaghetti but it doesn't actually taste like spaghetti. You can roast or steam spaghetti squash, then scrape out the strands into a bowl and cover with a sauce, pesto or bolognese. Eat it just like pasta, the texture is tender and a little chewy. Less sweet than other squash and pumpkin, it's an excellent squash to incorporate into savoury dishes.

5. Kabocha Squash

Kabocha is an Asian variety of winter squash. Kabocha are small pumpkins which are round and squat in shape. Kabocha is a hearty squash which eats like a fluffy sweet potato. It tastes like a cross between a pumpkin and a sweet potato, with its sweet earthy flavour and hints of chestnut. Kabocha squash have fewer calories than butternut squash and are full of beta-carotene and fibre.

6. Kamokamo pumpkin/Kumi Kumi

Kamokamo is classified as a native heritage vegetable that grows on the vine here in New Zealand. This heavily ribbed pumpkin is green when young, round in shape and about the size of a tennis ball. Once ripe Kamokamo more closely resembles the size of a netball. Its skin changes to a warm orange colour and inside, its soft orange flesh has a deliciously nutty flavour. Believed to have arrived with Māori in the 19th century, Kamokamo are still grown and enjoyed by Maori, who cook it in a similar way to courgettes and marrow. 

Buying and storing pumpkin

Fresh pumpkin can be bought whole or cut into halves or quarters. Whilst whole, pumpkin can remain at room temperature, however, once cut it needs to be refrigerated.

Look for a squash or pumpkin that feels heavy for its size. Select one that has an evenly coloured skin, it should be spot and blemish free. Avoid any with cracks or soft spots

Pumpkin stores well at normal room temperature until it is cut.Once you have cut the pumpkin, remove all of the seeds immediately, wrap in plastic film and refrigerate.


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Preparing and cooking pumpkin


Cutting into a pumpkin
Cutting into the firm skin and flesh can be a challenge. Ensure you have a really sharp knife and enter vertically, close to the centre crown. Move the knife down so it is sitting horizontally. Remove the knife and repeat on the other side of the crown. If you find this too difficult you can roast the pumpkin whole and slice open once soft - or you can buy pumpkin which is precut for you.
Can you eat the skin?
The skin of the pumpkin is edible, healthy and really delicious. Just make sure to give it a good scrub before cooking.
Roasted pumpkin is delicious

Another simple way to bring out the pumpkin's natural flavour, is to spread the chunks over a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil then add salt and lightly spice with sage and thyme or cumin and coriander, both great combinations.

Bake in a hot oven for 20-30 minutes until the pumpkin is tender and it smells like sweet caramel. You can then enjoy:

  • As a vegetable side dish with a roast dinner. 
  • Serve tossed in a winter salad for lunch.
  • In a delicious pumpkin gnocchi or pumpkin risotto.
  • As a savoury filling for pumpkin ravioli.
  • When boiled or roasted, pumpkin makes a wonderful mash, finished by tossing it with salty butter and black pepper.
Use squash in your baking
Pumpkin is so good for us and it should never be wasted. Leftovers can be incorporated into sweet cakes, scones, muffins and even bread.

Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are the edible seeds of pumpkin and squash. They're typically flat and oval and have a white outer husk, which once removed reveals the seeds light green colour. Pumpkin seeds are nutritionally valuable in their own right so don't just discard them.

Don't eat raw pumpkin seeds. Raw pumpkin seeds may increase your risk of food poisoning. Always cook pumpkin seeds at a high temperature before eating, to prevent this happening.

How to remove pumpkin seeds from the pulp

When you scoop the seeds out with a strong metal spoon, it can be difficult to separate the pumpkin seeds from the sticky residue. Place the pulp in a bowl of cold water and any loose seeds will float to the top. Using your fingers, gently loosen the remaining seeds from the pulp, which can then be composted.

Roasted pumpkin seeds
First allow the clean pumpkin seeds to dry at room temperature. Toss them in a little olive oil, chilli powder and seasoning and spread out onto a lined baking tray. Roast the seeds at a high temperature in the oven for approximately 15 minutes.
Pumpkin seeds nutrition information

The seeds of pumpkin and squash are a good source of so many nutritional vitamins and minerals. They can be purchased in packets for a healthy snack or sprinkled onto dishes to add texture and crunch.

  • Magnesium: Pumpkin seeds are one of the best natural sources of magnesium, which is important for heart and bone health and to control blood pressure and blood sugar levels in the body.
  • Antioxidants: Full of antioxidants, pumpkin seeds can help protect against chronic diseases, some cancers and inflammation.
  • Fibre: A good source of dietary fibre, pumpkin seeds are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
  • Zinc: The high zinc content of pumpkin seeds can improve sperm quantity and male fertility.
  • Tryptophan: The tryptophan, zinc and magnesium in pumpkin seeds can help you to get a good night's sleep.
  • Enzyme inhibitor: Did you know that pumpkin seeds can help with an overactive bladder (OAB)? They inhibit 2 enzymes, which slow down prostrate growth and increase testosterone levels in men and strengthen a woman's pelvic floor.


Health benefits of pumpkin

Eating pumpkin is recommended by wellness professionals for a wide host of health benefits.
1. Pumpkin can lower the risk of age related sight loss
Pumpkin is one of the best dietary sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, which can reduce your risk of developing age related macular degeneration. Its high levels of Vitamin A and beta-carotene significantly lowers your risk of cataracts.
2. Pumpkin can lower your risk of cancer
Pumpkins are a good source of carotenoids, which act as antioxidants in the body, neutralising free radicals that encourage abnormal cells to multiply. Scientists have linked antioxidants to a reduced risk of stomach, throat, pancreatic and breast cancers.
3. Pumpkin can assist with weight loss
If you're on a weight loss program, you can eat pumpkin freely. Pumpkin is a nutrient dense food, meaning it's full of nutrients and just 50 calories per cup. As a good source of dietary fibre, pumpkin can also suppress the appetite so you don't overeat.
4. Pumpkin can benefit heart health
High in potassium, vitamin C and fibre, pumpkin has been linked to improvements in our heart health.
5. Pumpkin boosts immunity
Pumpkin's high levels of Vitamin A, C and E, when combined with its folate and iron content, can strengthen your immune system and protect you from viruses.
6. Pumpkin is great for your skin
Pumpkin is very high in beta-carotene which research shows, when converted to vitamin A, can act as a natural sunblock. Vitamins C and Vitamin E, lutein and zeaxanthin also help to strengthen the skin.
Who shouldn't eat pumpkin?
Pumpkin is mildly diuretic and can work in a similar way to a water pill. This process may harm people who take medicines such as lithium. Allergies to pumpkin are rare and can cause an itchy rash and allergic reactions in some people. Pumpkin and squash should be avoided by anyone with a pumpkin allergy.

Enjoy fresh seasonal pumpkins

Now you know how wonderfully healthy pumpkins are, we hope you'll enjoy them even more. Try incorporating pumpkin into your daily diet and discover just how versatile and delicious they are. Find out more about other seasonal fruits and vegetables here.

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