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. 

Cikkszám k, 10. október 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).