Gourd - the underestimated fruit vegetable

When it comes to gourd or pumpkin, most people think of Halloween. But using it only as autumn decoration is too bad. Why you should eat plenty of this fruit vegetable whose plant family also includes zucchini, cucumbers, sugar melons and water melons. 

Article from Tue, 10. October 2017

A lot of good behind a hard shell

The original homeland of the different pumpkin varieties, alternatively Cucurbita (lat.), squashes or gourds, including our traditional Cucurbita pepo which can weigh up to 30kg, is situated between Peru and Southern USA. Botanically, Cucurbita fruits are berries, protecting the fruit pulp like a tank with a hard outer shell. Another gourd variety is Cucurbita maxima. Its fruits can weigh several hundred kilograms and rank among the biggest in the entire plant kingdom. From the American continent, gourds also found their way to Europe from the 16th century on. Today, the main cultivation areas for gourds in Germany are Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia. They make about three quarters of the total acreage. Cucurbita are one of the oldest agricultural crops of mankind. Since generations, bottle gourds for instance are not only consumed in Uganda and Congo, but are also used for the making of traditional drinking containers (calabash) and the construction of musical instruments. New archaeological finds suggest a domestication of wild squash varieties and their cultivation already 10,000 years before Christ.

Just like cabbage and root vegetables, gourds were long scorned as ‚poor man's food‘ because at that time, the varieties had less aroma, a dull taste and therefore were mainly fed to farm animals. For many years, gourd plants led a true shadowy existence. Only with the American tradition of Halloween, they became popular also in Germany as ‚Halloween pumpkins‘ and since then experience a renaissance again, along with other old and traditional vegetables and fruits. Nowadays, gourd breedings from all over the world deliver a huge variety of diversified and especially tasty culinary pumpkins. From September to November, they are offered by regional manufacturers and in the markets of the big supermarket chains. Both in conventional and organic quality. Among them are rarities as well as inedible ornamental gourds.

Gourds are extremely valuable to human’s health. In Germany, Cucurbita pepo even became ‚medicinal plant of the year‘ in 2005. Depending on the variety, the typical colour of the more or less fibrous fruit pulp which can range from light yellow to dark orange are attributed to carotenoids, specific plants’ own colourants which are considered to be a precursor of vitamin A. Hence, the carotenoids beta carotene, lutein and neoxanthin are important for the health of our eyes. Carotenoids have a strong antioxidant power and an antiphlogistic effect. In relatively large amounts they can be found in the edible shell of the variety Cucurbita maxima which also includes ‚Red Kuri‘. Carotenoids is transformed into vitamin A within the body. It is also important for the nervous system, the red blood cells, skin and mucous membranes.

Gourds or pumpkins consist of 90% water, thus are less in calories (about 27 kcal/ 100g) and contain dietary fibre that keeps us satiated longer and has a positive impact on the blood glucose level and the cells of our pancreas. Gourd is a fruit vegetable with a low glycaemic load, the amount of carbohydrates or sugar is manageable (about 4g/100g, compared to sweetcorn with 20g per 100g) which is why gourd is also suitable for diabetics. Diabetics should by all means take care for a largely plant-based nutrition to maintain a healthy weight and to sustainably avoid high blood glucose and blood pressure levels which cause vascular damage and as a result can cause ocular complications typical for diabetics. The carotenoids contained in pumpkins can help to support eyesight. Pumpkins also have plenty of potassium, a mineral that is amongst others important for the cardiovascular system.

The seeds of the fruits are also rich in vital substances. Roasted pumpkin seeds are a tasty snack and a healthy alternative for regular chips. They are rich in valuable fatty acids (mainly oleic acid and linoleic acid) which can have a positive effect on the ‚good‘ HDL (high-density lipoprotein) in the cholesterol metabolism, may protect heart, liver and the nervous system as well as keeping the skin supple. In studies, pumpkin seeds also show a positive effect on the urinary tract, bladder and prostate in particular. Pumpkins seed oil from the Austrian Styria is an especially delicious and aromatic oil with plenty of vitamin A and E as well as vitamin K which is i.a. required for the bone metabolism. Pumpkin seeds are also rich in copper, an important trace element without which iron cannot become the blood pigment haemoglobin. It supports the immune system, bones, blood vessels and nerves. Copper also participates in the pigmentation of our skin and hair.

And some more worth knowing about pumpkin seeds: A powerful, vegan protein is also obtained from them in which different amino acids as building components of proteins are concentrated. Above all the essential amino acids. Meaning those that cannot be produced by the human body and therefore must be supplied by nutrition. They are required for important endegenous proteins such as collagen and the muscle protein myosin. The essential amino acids are: Isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Arginin and histidine are considered to be semi-essential. Pumpkin seed protein is a complete vegan protein with a high biological value. That means, all essential amino acids are available in a balanced ratio towards each other in terms of quantity. In case, an amino acid is present only in minimal amounts, the other amino acids are not used for protein structuring as well and instead are biochemically broken down into fats, sugar and urea (deamination).

Pumpkin is a culinary allrounder

Not without reason, pumpkins can also be found on German plates increasingly for some years now because they simply taste delicious. With their distinctive and subtle natural taste, they can be prepared in quite different ways, whether sweet, savoury or spicy. Not only for the classic, pumpkin soup, but also as a fried and stewed vegetable, for desserts, home-made marmalades and chutneys as well as home-baked cakes and breads.

There are countless international recipes because it is part of nutrition in many regions of the world, also in Africa and Asia. In Uganda for instance, almost every household has one or two squash plants. In Sierra Leone and Liberia it is made into a thick stew with tomatoes, onions and palm oil and served with meat and rice. In Thailand, people enjoy eating it with stir-fried eggs and seasoned with fish-sauce, in the Philippines with green bush beans, garlic, onions and prawns in coconut milk, always served with rice. Most Chinese recipes regard pumpkin also as a vegetable. In the USA and Canada, pumpkins are mostly processed into sweet desserts and cakes (‚pumpkin pie‘).

The most popular culinary pumpkins are the slightly tart, buttery and even fruity tasting butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) and the Japanese Red Kuri or ‚Uchiki Kuri squash‘, better known as ‚Hokkaido‘, with a rich and sweetish aroma reminding of chestnuts. Hokkaido does not need to be peeled. Its skin becomes soft as butter during the cooking process and can be eaten as well. The skin of the butternut also softens with cooking, but does not fully disintegrate. Peeling it is thus a matter of personal taste and also depends on the quality of the raw product. The bioavailability of the carotenoids in pumpkin pulp of which our body produces vitamin A, is being increased through cooking. The fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K in pumpkin seed oil prove to be relatively heat-stable.

LAOTIAN RED KURI SQUASH COCONUT SOUP

Savour the pumpkin season to the fullest and enjoy the traditional and very healthy fruit vegetable with this extraordinary pumpkin soup. It surprises with incomparable and exciting flavours that are typical for the cuisine of the Southeast Asian country Laos. We recommend using ingredients from organic and regional farming. Recipe for four to six persons.

You need these ingredients:
  • 1 tbsp. pure coconut oil
  • 1 large Red Kuri or Hokkaido squash (about 2kg), gutted and diced
  • 2 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch of spring onions, cut diagonally into 2cm pieces 
  • 2 fresh longhorn chilis, cut lengthwise into smaller pieces (optional, for extra spiciness)
  • 1 level tbsp. Laos dried spice blend*
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 small piece of fresh, peeled ginger, grated
  • 1,5l vegetable stock (without flavour enhancers and yeast) or vegetable broth 
  • 1 can of coconut milk (400ml)
  • Juice of 1-2 limes (depending on size) and some lime zest 
  • 1 heaped tbsp. agave syrup
  • Fresh coriander, roughly chopped 
  • Organic by Berry.En ACTIFLAKES 
  • Himalayan salt, black pepper, soy sauce

* This special spice blend is made from the following dried and ground herbs and spices: Mint, Thai basil, galangal, lemon ginger, coriander seeds, cumin, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, cardamom, turmeric and green chili. Alternatively you can use - depending on aroma and spiciness - 2 heaped tbsp. of instant green Thai curry paste from the glass (vegetarian) - and add fresh Thai basil as well as fresh mint, both finely chopped, to get the typical Laotian taste.

And that’s how you prepare the soup:
  1. Heat the coconut oil in a big pot. Initially sauté the gutted and diced squash in the open pot at higher temperature until there are slight roast aromas.
  2. Add the shallots, spring onions and the chilis and braise for 1-2 minutes. Thereby move the vegetable with a wooden cooking spoon to prevent it from burning. 
  3. Subsequently add the Laos dried spice blend or green Thai curry paste to the vegetable, the grated garlic and ginger as well and sauté all for an additional minute at higher temperature. 
  4. Now cover the squash vegetable with the hot vegetable stock or broth as well as the coconut milk and boil everything briefly at the highest temperature. Thereby move the pot a little and cover halfway with the lid.
  5. Then reduce the heat, add the lime juice and only the green part of the lime peel (the white part tastes very bitter) as well as the agave syrup and simmer the vegetable in the nearly closed pot at medium heat until it has become soft and can be pureed. Before, add half of the roughly chopped fresh coriander. 
  6. Now take out the squash vegetable and some cooking liquid with a ladle, fill into a blender jug, shortly blend at the highest level and return the mixture into the pot. Just as you wish, you can leave the soup more or less chunky. The quickest and easiest way to puree is with a hand blender, directly in the cooking pot to the desired consistency. For this purpose, remove the pot from the cooking zone and place it back again afterwards.
  7. Now simmer and reduce the soup in the open pot only at low temperature for 5-10 minutes, this intensifies its flavour. Finally season to taste with Himalayan salt and black pepper and arrange on soup plates. 
  8. Garnish with the ACTIFLAKES soy flakes and the rest of the chopped coriander and then serve. According to taste, season with additional soy sauce, salt and pepper.

This pumpkin soup is best accompanied by a green salad with a refreshing vinaigrette from cider vinegar and olive oil, a shot of lemon juice, a bit of sour cream, agave syrup, fresh herbs such as chive, dill and parsley as well as some salt and pepper. Pumpkin is very mild, has a basic, buffering effect and therefore tolerates additional seasoning at table.

We wish you an unforgettable and inspiring taste experience!