Whether for dining or decoration, are tasty, long keeping, and yes, even artful.
An unexpected transformation occurs once they're plucked from their vines.
They change from humble vegetables to works of garden-grown art.
Their fluted, ruffled, and ribbed rinds and twisted stems make for a visual feast, especially when clustered on a mantel, piled on the porch, or arranged as a centerpiece on the Thanksgiving table.
Hues of brilliant orange, deep green, tawny brown, and dusky blue complement almost any table, and unlike ornamental, and inedible gourds, they taste as good as they look.
Health Benefits & Antioxidant Support
While we've become accustomed to thinking about leafy vegetables as an outstanding source of antioxidants, we've been slower to recognize the antioxidant benefits provided by other vegetables, like these.
But we really need to catch up with the times!
Recent research has made it clear just how important this super vegetable is worldwide to antioxidant intake, especially so in the case of carotenoid antioxidants.
From South America to Africa, from India to Asia, and even in some parts of the United States, no single food provides a greater percentage of certain carotenoids than these super vegetables. (In the United States, a recent study that has determined these super gourds to be the number one source of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene among Hispanic men ages 60 and older.
And we've seen studies ranking foods from this Cucurbita genus at the top of the carotenoid list in Cameroon, Sri Lanka, and the West Indies!)
The unique carotenoid content is not their only claim to fame in the antioxidant department.
There's a very good amount of vitamin-C (about one-third of the Daily Value in every cup) and an excellent amount of the antioxidant mineral manganese contained within.
Research has shown that the cell wall polysaccharides found in them also possess antioxidant properties, as do some of their phenolic phytonutrients.
Most of the research to date on these super veggies and inflammation has either been conducted using laboratory animals, or has been focused on laboratory studies of cell activity.
Still, results in this area have been fascinating and also promising with respect to these orbs as an anti-inflammatory food.
In some of the more detailed studies, specific inflammation-related molecules, enzymes, or cell receptors (for example, nuclear factor kappa-B, nitric oxide synthase, or cyclo-oxygenase) have been studied as targets for the activity of the cucurbitacin molecules found within.
Cucurbitacins are glycoside molecules found in a wide variety of foods, including the brassica vegetables, some mushrooms, and even some ocean mollusks.
But they're named for the family of foods (Cucurbitaceae) due to their initial discovery in this food family.
Cucurbitacins can be extremely bitter tasting to animals as well as humans, and they are considered to be part of the plants' natural defense mechanisms.
Yet the same properties that make cucurbitacins potentially toxic to some animals and microorganisms also make them effective as anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory substances when we consume them.
While these super veggies should not be looked upon as a high-fat food, they do contain some fats, including the anti-inflammatory omega-3s.
One cup baked, will provide you with approximately 340 milligrams of omega-3 fats in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
While that amount is only about one-third as high as the concentration of ALA found in the "best of the best" omega-3 plant foods like walnuts, it's still a valuable amount being provided by a low-fat food. (Less than 15% of the calories come from fat, compared with almost 90% of the calories in walnuts!).
With these, we have a fantastic anti-inflammatory food opportunity in which we can get a valuable amount of our anti-inflammatory omega-3s without much of a change in our total fat intake.
Promoting Optimal Health
It's the combination of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds in these super gourds that have shown this food to have clear potential in the area of cancer prevention and cancer treatment.
Prostate cancer is the cancer type that has been of greatest research interest in this regard, followed by colon cancer, breast cancer, and lung cancer.
We have yet to see cancer-related studies that involve everyday amounts consumed in food form.
Most of the studies in this area have involved extracts from foods in the Cucurbita genus, or isolated, purified substances (like cucurbitans) that can be obtained from those foods.
Still, given the clear antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, we expect to see cancer studies in humans eventually identifying this food as a risk reducer for certain cancer types.
Potential Blood Sugar Regulation Benefits
A second area of high potential for this gourd and its health benefits is blood sugar regulation and prevention of type 2 diabetes.
We've already seen evidence in animal studies that show improvement in blood sugar and insulin regulation following intake of cell wall polysaccharides from winter-squash and other like foods.
We've also seen research pointing to other nutrients found in winter squash as beneficial for blood sugar control.
These nutrients include the B-vitamin like compound d-chiro-inositol, a nutrient we expect to see moving up on the radar screen with respect to blood sugar regulation.
It's also important to remember that blood sugar regulation is closely tied to our overall supply of B-complex vitamins, and that winter squash is unusual in its B-vitamin composition.
This super-food provides a good amount of five B-complex vitamins!
And those vitamins are B1, B3, B6, pantothenic acid, and folate.
Other Health Benefits
Finally, we believe that future research may underscore the health benefits provided by winter-squash for prevention of cardiovascular disease.
We already know that this food provides key antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, two categories of nutrient support critically needed for reduced risk of most cardiovascular problems.
But we also have preliminary evidence to suggest that there may be unique substances in the Cucurbita winter-squash that partially block the formation of cholesterol in our cells by inhibiting an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase.
Coupled with its unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory composition, winter-squash may turn out to be particularly important food for inclusion in a heart healthy diet.
Winter-squash come in the classic fall colors: umber, blazing yellow, and sunset orange.
Pumpkins are favorites for decor and eating, but other types of winter-squash offer the same burst of color and a more diverse range of shapes and flavors.
The baking winter-squash 'Red Warty Thing' (a.k.a. 'Victor') and 'Eastern Rise' both have smooth, dense, deliciously sweet flesh with a subtle nutty flavor.
These orange, teardrop-shaped fruits keep long into the winter and pair well with pumpkins, Hubbard squash, and round kabocha squash in decorative seasonal arrangements.
Three French heirlooms known for their superior culinary qualities also make excellent fall decorations: The rare, single-serving-size fruits of 'Pomme d'Or' are about the size and color of oranges and lemons.
'Galeux d'Eysines' is a large, round fruit with pale salmon-colored skin and a smattering of tan bumps; its sweet potato-flavored flesh purees, make it the perfect choice for soups.
And the lovely 'Musquee de Provence' offers a fairytale pumpkin shape and a delicate flavor.
Green and Blue Hues
Moody, dark green and gray blue winter-squash, provide the perfect foil for their fiery-colored cousins.
Two unusual Australian heirlooms, 'Triamble' and 'Queensland Blue', feature sweet, deeply flavored, bright orange flesh and will store for up to 5 months.
The shamrock-shaped 'Triamble' has a pale green rind that is as smooth as marble; 'Queensland Blue' makes the perfect doorstop, with 10 to 20 pound, deeply ribbed fruit with jade blue skin.
For baking, try 'Blue Hubbard', a large squash with a hard, powdery blue shell complementing its bright orange flesh that is an excellent substitute for pumpkin in pies and soups.
'Marina di Chioggia', a turban-shaped heirloom from northeastern Italy, has richly flavored, mustard-colored flesh concealed within a knobby, ribbed, blue-green shell.
The muted tans, creams, and browns of many butternut, buttercup, and dumpling squash have an understated beauty.
For stuffing, roasting, and baking, 'Sweet Dumpling' is unbeatable.
The petite ivory fruits are mottled green and have succulent, tender flesh.
"Thelma Sanders" is an acorn-type heirloom with pronounced ridges and a cream-colored skin that ripens to a burnished gold.
It makes a perfect meal for two, as does "Honeynut", a generously fruiting, miniature butternut squash that sets up to 18 fruits per plant.
The lovely "Pattison Panache Verte et Blanc", a green and ivory scalloped fruit, and "Zucchino Rampicante", a slender Italian squash with smooth tawny skin and a bulbous bottom, can both be harvested young as summer squash or left to mature on the vine and enjoyed in winter as baking squash.
Thai Butternut Soup
Packed with vitamin-A and fiber, this creamy soup blends the flavors of winter-squash, Yukon gold potatoes, and brown sugar.
Molasses and cinnamon add sweet and spicy overtones.
Makes 8 Servings
6 butternut winter-squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2" pieces
3 onions, sliced
3 Tbs. fresh ginger minced
1/2 jalapeno, seeds removed and minced
2 lemongrass, smashed and minced
2" piece of cinnamon stick
7 Tbs. Thai red curry paste
400 ml. (4 small cans) coconut milk
6 Tbs. fish sauce
6 Tbs. brown sugar
2 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
Water to cover
1 Tbs. grapeseed oil for sweating vegetables
Sea salt to taste
1 Tbs. soy sauce
Rice wine vinegar to taste
500 ml. plain yogurt
For Optional Garnish
1 bunch cilantro
Juice of one lime
In a stock-pot, heat the grape-seed oil over medium low heat.
Add the onions and cook until softened but not colored.
Add the ginger and lemongrass along with the jalapeno and cook until fragrant.
Add the cinnamon stick and red curry paste, cook for 2 mins.
Add the butternut winter-squash, brown sugar, fish sauce, coconut milk, water (just to cover), and potatoes.
Season lightly with sea salt and bring to a simmer.
Once all of the vegetables are soft, remove from the heat and remove cinnamon stick.
Puree in a blender and pass through a fine sieve or chinois.
Season with the lime, soy sauce, sea salt and rice wine vinegar to taste.
If desired, garnish the soup for serving with cilantro sprigs and a spoonful of plain yogurt, along with some extra lime wedges on the side.Tweet
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