A Classic Staple Ingredient in Caribbean Culinary Recipes: Pumpkin

Without a doubt, pumpkin plays an essential role in Caribbean culinary heritage because it is well known for its versatility. Pumpkin is a large vegetable that can be found in the West Indies and is cooked to create both savory and sweet dishes. Let us further discuss the origins especially of calabaza squash, and how this vegetable has influenced so many dishes in the Caribbean.


The Origins of Calabaza Squash

Calabaza squash is native to the Americas and is its origins are believed to date back over 7,500 years ago. Calabaza squash was then introduced to Spanish explorers and was spread across the world on via continued exploration voyages. Today Calabaza squash can be found at local markets and specialty grocers and is grown throughout the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Europe, as well as parts of Africa and North America. Source https://specialtyproduce.com/produce/Calabaza_Squash_1198.php


Description and Taste

Calabaza squash ranges in size from small like a cantaloupe to large like a watermelon and has a round to pear-like shape. Its exterior skin is hardened, often lined with large vertical ridges and when mature, its rind can be mottled green to yellow-orange and is often striped or splotched with varying shades of green. Calabaza squashes can also be one solid color or multi-colored depending on open pollination. The firm, yellow to orange flesh surrounds a large, central seed cavity with stringy pulp and many small, flat, and hard cream-colored seeds. Calabaza squash, when cooked, is smooth, fine-textured, and has a mild, sweet, and nutty flavor similar to butternut or acorn squash. Source https://specialtyproduce.com/produce/Calabaza_Squash_1198.php


Seasons/Availability

Calabaza squash is available year-round, with peak season in the fall through winter.


Current Facts Calabaza squash, botanically classified as Cucurbita moschata, is a tropical variety known for its long creeping vines and is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family along with pumpkins and gourds. The word calabaza often signifies several species of hard squash in the Americas with dramatic variances in shape, size, and texture due to natural outcrossing from open pollination. Also known as West Indian pumpkin, Cuban squash, Zapollo, Auyama, Abóbora, Calabash, Calabasa, and Green pumpkin, Calabaza squash is an important crop in developing countries today and is grown predominately in tropical and subtropical regions throughout Latin America. Calabaza squash is known for its creamy texture and mild flavor and is commonly sold pre-cut into large chunks in fresh markets and wrapped in plastic for ease of use. Source https://specialtyproduce.com/produce/Calabaza_Squash_1198.php


Health Benefits of Pumpkins

Pumpkin is a medicinal plant, for internal and external use. Its traditional uses include the care of sprains, burns, jaundice, asthenia. In addition, pumpkin flesh contains significant amounts of antioxidants, is rich in potassium, vitamin A and vitamin B9. Its consumption protects the liver and contributes to the health of the skin and eyes. Thanks to their cucurbitine, pumpkin seeds have recognized deworming properties. They can also contribute to the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and treat certain pathologies of the prostate.


Throughout South America, Central America and the Caribbean, each country has its own national recipe:

· In Haiti, “Soup Joumou” is made with calabaza squash, a variety of starches, vegetables, and spices, and is mostly consumed on January 1st to celebrate Haiti’s Independence. In 2021, the famous Haitian dish was recognized by UNESCO, a huge historical moment for the Haitian culture and her people. Access the full article and recipe here.

● Auyuma, in the Dominican Republic, is a soup with onions, cream or cream cheese and other ingredients.

● The island of Barbados celebrates their indepdence day in November by eating conkies throughout the month, as well as year-round.

● In French Guiana, pumpkin is a common staple as a side dish or vegetarian dish, such as the Guyanese dessert bar.

● In Jamaica, pumpkin soup is a specialty made with lightly spiced pumpkin accompanied by other vegetables.


Generally sold into large chunks on market stalls and even in supermarkets, the pumpkin holds an important place throughout the Caribbean. It is considered an essential food source in the diet throughout Caribbean cuisine.


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