By Glenn I. Teves, UH CTAHR Extension Agent
Tropical pumpkins, known by its Latin name, Curcurbita moschata, are among of the strongest and most resilient members of the cucurbit family that includes watermelon, cantaloupe, zucchini, cucumber and squash. It is known for its high yield, great nutritional value, good storage life and its ability to ship long distances. Native to Mexico and Central America, it’s been grown for over 8,000 years and is believed to be one of the oldest crops grown before corn and beans and carried with native people throughout the Americas.
Many North American varieties were developed by ancient tribes such as the Seminole of Florida, Iroquois of New York, Cherokee of the Appalachians, and Lakota of the Sioux nation. One variety from Oaxaca, Mexico is grown for its seeds that are toasted, called pepitas. There are many varieties in the Caribbean, and in Puerto Rico they’re a favorite food eaten with rice and beans, and even made into fritters. One of the most popular tropical pumpkins is butternut squash which can cross with other varieties found in Hawaii, and grows on Molokai.
Technically a squash, we call them “pumpkins” in Hawaii and the Filipino community also calls them calabaza. Introduced to the Philippines in the 1500s by Spanish explorers and brought to Hawaii by Filipino immigrants, they come in many sizes from one to 15 pounds, and shapes, including long, round, flattened, and papaya shaped. It’s an important addition to Filipino stew or pinakbet.
Many believe that pumpkin pie is made from large orange pumpkins, but canned pumpkin is from a tropical pumpkin variety called Dickenson. All tropical pumpkins can be used to make pumpkin pie. They can also be steamed with melted butter or coated with olive oil, sprinkled with coarse salt and pepper, and baked.
One cup of cooked tropical pumpkin supplies three to four times the daily requirement of vitamin A and 50 percent of your vitamin C requirement. One cup of squash also contains more potassium than bananas. The darker the orange color in the flesh, the higher the nutrient content. Storing them for a while before eating will increase their sweetness.
Tropical pumpkin is tolerant to many insects, and diseases including viruses and fungal diseases such as powdery mildew due to its built-in resistance to tropical diseases and are adapted to hot, humid conditions found in the tropics. Once you find one, save the seeds because you usually can’t buy these in the market.