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Unique breeds of tasty pumpkins on the rise in South Floridaqrcode

Dec. 3, 2019

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Dec. 3, 2019
Most people don’t normally associate the pumpkin with Florida. Researchers are however finding a place for the colorful and nutritious cucurbits to grow, especially specialty selections like the calabaza. Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS

We are in the middle of prime time for pumpkins. No vegetable stands taller during the holidays as a decorative symbol or recipe ingredient. But can there be more for this cucurbit crop? Research being conducted by the University of Florida is looking to carve out a larger niche for growers and consumers.

According to Geoffrey Meru, Assistant Professor of vegetable breeding, genetics and genomics at Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, the goal is to develop pumpkins varieties that are attractive to growers because they produce high-yielding, superior quality (flesh sweetness, texture, flavor and color) that can withstand hot, humid, and wet conditions of South Florida all year round.

“The cucurbit-breeding program is making headway in developing nutritious, dual-purpose pumpkins adapted to South Florida’s tropical climate using traditional and contemporary breeding approaches,” Meru said.

An additional component to the research focuses on the calabaza, also known as the Cuban pumpkin in South Florida’s Latin community. Because of the calabaza’s taste, texture, and flesh, it’s use is most popular in Latin American recipes. It is for this reason that Meru hopes breeding varieties of pumpkins and the calabaza will spur new recipes and uses.

Last summer, Meru gathered with a small group of potential growers, consumers, and chefs in Homestead for a field day of test tasting. Seventeen different types of pumpkin and calabaza were evaluated. Opinions on color, flavor, moisture, and fiber from stringy to smooth were recorded. The highest-ranking choices made it through to the next part of the research.

The next phase of Meru’s research, UF/IFAS reports, will engage the grower and the public. For calabaza, he is in the process of giving seeds to the public to grow and try, particularly seeds of Seminole pumpkin, which is native to Florida. He also is giving seeds of the seed-oil pumpkin for interested growers.

Meru and his research team have conducted growth trials for three seed-oil pumpkins in the last two years. Although seeds of all types of pumpkins are edible, seeds from a seed-oil pumpkin lack a seed coat, and are called “naked,” Meru said. Naked pumpkin seeds are best suited for oil production and snacks. In most cases, seed-oil pumpkin flesh does not make for good eating.

Most of the pumpkin seed consumed in the U.S. is imported.


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