Pumpkin Spice: Fad or Fallacy?

by Sara Scinto

Would you want a watery pumpkin pie? A savory pumpkin spice latte? How about a stringy pumpkin bread? Yeah, I wouldn’t either. I adore pumpkin spice everything as much as the next person (pumpkin is actually my favorite food), but are pumpkin and spices actually in these products?

My mom and I enjoying real pumpkin whoopie pies

There has been an explosion of pumpkin spice products rolling out for fall in recent years and each season it starts sooner (apparently as soon as July in 2017). Fall flavors are creeping into summer because the consumer demand is there and food companies want in on the profits that have soared in the last 5 years. Tiffany Hsu from The New York Times article purports pumpkin spice sales “…surged 20 percent from 2012 to 2013, then 12 percent the next year, then 10 percent in 2015 and in 2016”.

Unfortunately, not all pumpkin spice products have either pumpkin or spice blends in them. Sugar is first on the ingredient list of both Pumpkin Spice Oreos® and Kraft’s Jet-Puffed® Pumpkin Spice Marshmallows; neither contain actual pumpkin NOR spices, unless they are hidden in the natural or artificial flavorings. However they do contain artificial colors to mimic that beautiful pumpkin orange. According to Wikipedia, pumpkin pie spice is usually “a blend of ground cinnamonnutmeggingercloves, and sometimes allspice”, but commercial pumpkin spice products typically include chemical compounds to simulate the taste of pumpkin pie. You are not only getting fooled by the absence of real pumpkin and spices, but you are not able to reap any of the nutritional benefits of these foods. Pumpkin is a rich source of carotenoids, vitamin C, and fiber; nutmeg contains multiple B vitamins; cinnamon is full of antioxidants; and ginger provides the essential minerals magnesium and copper. If you’d like to create your own pumpkin pie spice, here are the proportions recommended by Julie R. Thomson at the Huffington Post:

Natural pumpkin pie spice blend

  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 5 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cloves

 

 

 

Seemingly healthier stores like Trader Joe’s are no exception to the pumpkin spice fallacy. Their Pumpkin Shaped Frosted Sugar Cookies and Chocolate Mousse Pumpkins don’t include an ounce of pumpkin (they are just pumpkin shaped). And although Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s and Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Baking Mix do contain pumpkin and “spices” on their respective ingredient lists, sugar comes first. This is something to be cognizant of if your body doesn’t handle sugar well.

Pumpkin may not be as straightforward as it seems either. As it turns out, the canned pumpkin that is so heavily used in pumpkin pies and other fall goodies often contains one or more types of winter squash! For example, the company Libby’s uses a Dickinson pumpkin, which is more closely related to a butternut squash than a pumpkin you would find in your typical patch. Dickinson pumpkins and butternut squash are both part of the Cucurbita moschata species, while a traditional jack-o’-lantern pumpkin belongs to the Cucurbita pepo species.

Before you start a false advertising class lawsuit, a couple things should be clarified. Jack-o’-lantern pumpkins actually taste pretty bad and would make a terrible pumpkin pie. They’re stringy, watery, and not that sweet. This is why canned pumpkin companies use a variety of winter squashes that are more vibrant in color, “sweeter, fleshier and creamier” than a classic carving pumpkin. It just tastes and looks better. And these companies aren’t technically breaking any rules, since the FDA has a quite lenient definition of pumpkin, which includes any “firm-shelled, golden-fleshed, sweet squash”.

The reason pumpkin spice mania has taken America by storm is that sugary pumpkin spice products taste good! Food companies know this and give consumers what they want, which may not always be the best for the health of our bodies or our food system. But do not fear: we can still enjoy all the delicious pumpkin spice goodness by being more aware of ingredients and making our own treats.

Here are some of my all-time favorite recipes that have real pumpkin and/or spice blends in them:

1-Bowl Pumpkin Bread (V, GF)

1-Bowl Pumpkin Bread

DIY Pumpkin Spice Syrup (can substitute stevia for sugar or reduce sugar)

DIY Pumpkin Spice Syrup

Overnight, Slow Cooker, Pumpkin Pie Steel-Cut Oatmeal (GF, can be made V)

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

Pumpkin Curry (GF)

Paleo Pumpkin Curry

Pumpkin Dream Cake (for very special occasions)

Pumpkin Dream Cake

Lastly, a pro tip for making your own pumpkin pancakes: substitute pumpkin puree for some liquid (whether oil or water) and shake some pumpkin pie spice into the batter. Play around with how much you substitute until it reaches a consistency that you like-there’s no wrong way to do it! The end product will be a dense and delicious pancake that pairs wonderfully with some maple syrup and/or berry topping.

Sara Scinto is a second-year NICBC student, avid coffee drinker, runner, triathlete, and yogi. She has a love for rainbows and all things food/nutrition related. During the fall, there is a 100% chance she has made some kind of pumpkin food within the last week. You can find her on Instagram @saras_colorfull_life.

 

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Five Veggies to Try This Fall

by Katelyn Castro

With the days getting shorter and the weather getting colder, you may be missing the summer barbeques with crisp corn on the cob, grilled zucchini, and fresh tomato-mozzarella-basil salads. But, don’t fill your grocery cart with canned or frozen veggies just yet! Fall vegetables can be just as satisfying, especially when you have some delicious recipes to try.

“Eat your veggies!” We’ve probably all been told this before, whether it was from our doctor, our parents, or some health nut on a juice cleanse. Despite the known health benefits of vegetables, 87% of Americans do not meet the recommended daily serving of vegetables (2 ½ cups), according to a national report published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vegetables are expensive. They don’t taste good. I don’t know how to prepare them… As a nutrition student, these are the most common answers I hear when asking patients, friends, and family their reason for not eating vegetables. As a hummus-and-veggie lover, I am determined to change vegetables’ bad reputation! Believe it or not, vegetables can be affordable and they can taste pretty darn delicious if you know when to buy them and how to prepare them.

With a variety of fresh and local produce available at farmers’ markets and grocery stores during the fall season, now is the perfect time to start eating more veggies. Seasonal vegetables are not only more tasty and nutrient-rich since they are picked at peak harvest time, but they are also usually less expensive than out-of-season produce.

Here are five seasonal vegetables to try this fall, along with some cooking preparation tips. Whether you like your veggies soft or crunchy, savory or sweet, the following recipes offer something for everyone’s palate.

1- Cauliflower

Due to its mild taste, cauliflower is extremely versatile, making it an easy vegetable to incorporate into almost any dish ranging from pizza and casseroles to rice and pasta dishes. As a cruciferous vegetable, cauliflower adds bulk and fiber to meals without significantly altering flavor. Try steaming cauliflower, then mash it with potatoes, use it to make a pizza crust, or bake it with macaroni and cheese. One cup of steamed cauliflower provides three grams of fiber and 92% of the daily value of Vitamin C in only 29 calories!

Recipes to try:

Photos from recipes above

Photos from recipes above

2- Winter Squash

Although named for its ability to stay hardy throughout the winter months, winter squash is actually harvested during the fall. Pumpkin may be the most popular type of winter squash, but acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash are other fall varieties that can be just as flavorful. The sweet flavor and dense texture make winter squash a great addition to soups, salads, lasagnas, and even desserts. Don’t let the tough exterior or hefty size of winter squash intimidate you! Most varieties can be easily sliced and baked, requiring little effort to prepare. One cup of cooked and cubed winter squash is a great source of Vitamin A and Vitamin C. However, to really reap the benefits of winter squash, don’t forget to eat the seeds! Winter squash seeds are one of the top sources of magnesium and zinc, which are both important nutrients for metabolism and immunity. One ounce of roasted seeds provides 35% of the daily value of magnesium and 20% of the daily value of zinc.

Recipes to try:

Photos from recipes above

Photos from recipes above

3- Carrots

Yes, they may be available all year round, but carrots are at their best in the fall. As a hardy vegetable, carrots are a convenient snack to pack and eat on-the-go with hummus or a yogurt-ranch dip. Adding sliced or shredded carrots into a salad or wrap are other easy ways to add more veggies to your diet. If cooking carrots, try roasting them with some healthy oil, like olive oil, or steaming them with a few drops of water. By steaming or roasting, you’ll preserve the water-soluble vitamins and minerals in carrots, which can be lost if cooked in a lot of water. One cup of raw carrots (or ½ cup steamed or roasted) has more than 100% of the daily value for Vitamin A, an important nutrient for eye and skin health.

Recipes to try:

Photos from recipes above

Photos from recipes above

4- Cabbage

Cabbage is another vegetable that seems to be in grocery stores all year round. However, cabbage is truly at its peak in the fall, with red cabbage, green cabbage, and bok choy most commonly available. In addition to being a staple in coleslaw, cabbage is also a great veggie to add to green salads, sandwiches, and wraps for a light and crunchy flavor. For a softer texture, try roasting or sautéing cabbage as part of a savory or sweet side dish. Although the nutritional value varies depending on the type of cabbage, all varieties are a great source of fiber and many vitamins and minerals. One cup of chopped green cabbage has 85% of the daily value of Vitamin K, an important nutrient for blood clotting and bone health. In contrast, one cup of chopped red cabbage provides a great source of Vitamin A and Vitamin C. Red cabbage is also rich in antioxidants called anthocyanins, which give cabbage its deep purple color.

Recipes to try:

Photos from recipes above

Photos from recipes above

5- Rutabaga

This list would not be complete without one oddball! Rutabaga may not be the prettiest of vegetables with its bulbous shape and hairy roots, but this root vegetable deserves a chance. Rutabaga’s mild flavor, slightly sweeter than turnip, makes it a great substitution or addition to potato dishes. As a versatile vegetable, rutabaga can be mashed like potatoes, puréed into soups, or roasted with herbs alongside other root vegetables. One cup of cooked rutabaga provides three grams of fiber, 16% of the daily value of potassium, and 53% of the daily value of Vitamin C.

Recipes to try:

Photos from recipes above

Photos from recipes above

 

Looking for other veggies to try during this fall season? Check out this chart for a list of produce with their typical harvest months in specific towns and cities within Massachusetts. To find a farmers’ market near you, use this map to search for open markets based on location and preferred type of produce.

Katelyn Castro is a second-year student in the DI/MS Nutrition Program at the Friedman School. She is a food science geek who loves experimenting with different seasonal veggies in the kitchen and forcing her friends and family to try her healthy concoctions.