Have a pumpkin latte if you must, or one of the seasonal pumpkin products crowding supermarket shelves, but remember that real pumpkin is in season, too — even here in South Florida, with sweet native Seminole pumpkin available at farmers markets.
Technically a fruit, pumpkin is high in fiber, potassium and vitamin A , with only 30 calories per cup. It has a creamy, satisfying texture and mild natural sweetness. Even its seeds, also known as pepitas, offer a trove of nutrition including zinc, manganese, iron and happy-making tryptophan along with an addictively buttery flavor.
You just can’t beat nature, but food manufacturers try, with products like pumpkin spice cream cheese (Kraft) and pumpkin pie spice potato crisps (Pringles). Many of these products are high in salt, fat or sugar but low in pumpkin. The Pringles crisps are entirely pumpkin-free.
Go for products with real pumpkin seeds rather than faux pumpkin flavor:
Nature’s Path Flax Plum pumpkin raisin crunch ($4.39, 12.35 ounces) is organic, mildly sweetened with evaporated cane juice and molasses, and has that crunch thing going with whole wheat, wheat bran and oat bran. Would that it had as many raisins and pumpkin seeds. A 3/4 cup serving contains, 210 calories, 4.5 fat grams, no cholesterol, 150 mg sodium, 7 sugar grams and 6 grams of protein.
Back to Nature sunflower and pumpkin seed granola ($4.19, 12 ounces) offers a more pumpkin-seedy experience. The seeds team up with oats, evaporated cane sugar and sunflower seeds for crunchy clusters of granola goodness. A half-cup serving contains 210 calories, 7 fat grams, 140 mg sodium, no cholesterol, 3 fiber grams, 11 grams sugar and 6 protein grams.
Both cereals are available in most supermarkets, but neither are pumpkin seedy enough to rock your world. For that, splurge on La Tourangelle’s roasted pumpkin seed oil ($14.99, 8.65 ounces). This dark, coppery oil is not for cooking but for adding a finishing touch to beans, whole grains and vegetables. Just a drop tastes like roasted pumpkin seeds on performance enhancement drugs. Like most oils, it contains 120 calories per tablespoon. It’s available at Fresh Market and other gourmet food stores.
Give real pumpkin a try, too. It’s what pumpkin products wish they could be.
Miami writer Ellen Kanner is the author of “Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner.”