How to Prep and Store Japanese Pumpkin 'Kabocha'


What you see on the label at the Farmer's Market:
Kanji: 南瓜
Hiragana: かぼちゃ
Katakana: カボチャ
Seasonal Harvesting Period: Autumn

The Basics:

This pumpkin can be stored for a long time, has high nutritional value, and is very filling. This pumpkin is often used in sweet side dishes and is said to be a "universal vegetable." It is good for boiled food dishes, fried food, soup, salad, pudding, pie, etc.

There are three types of pumpkins, "Japanese pumpkins", "Western pumpkins", and "Pepo pumpkins". Western pumpkins are generally the most distributed to markets. The Western pumpkin is characterized by its strong sweetness. Japanese pumpkins have a more sticky texture and is said to be most suitable for Japanese food. It often appeared on the table until the 1960s, after which Western pumpkins became the mainstream.

Pepo pumpkins come in a variety of colors and shapes, and "somen" pumpkins (golden thread melon) and zucchini are also members of this group. There are several other types, but most are used for feed or ornamental purposes.

Pumpkin has no sweetness immediately after harvesting, but when it ripens, starch changes to sugar and the sweetness increases. The supermarkets typically sell those that have been ripened, but at direct sale areas (independent farmer's markets, etc.), there are times when unripened pumpkins are lined up.

How to Select a Kabocha: If your pumpkin's color doesn't have splashes of golden or grayish hues on the exterior, leave it in a cool place for 2 to 4 weeks to ripen. The lighter gray the exterior, the sweeter it will be. However, if you leave it ripen even more, the ripening will progress and the sweetness will increase, but the chewy texture will be lost.

It is still tastes good if you cook kabocha that is still a deep green color, but it’s at it’s best with spots of yellow and/or gray.

Nutritional Info:

Japanese pumpkin when boiled: β-carotene equivalent (830mcg), potassium (480mg), vitamin E (α-tocopherol) (2.2mg), total dietary fiber (3.6g)

Common ailments it is helpful towards: Colds, anemia, cancer prevention, hypertension, myocardial infarction prevention, cerebral infarction prevention, arteriosclerosis prevention, poor circulation, eye strain

Pumpkin contains a lot of β-carotene, which is said to be effective in boosting immunity, preventing some types of cancer, and vitamin E, which is known to improve blood flow and poor circulation.

There is a lot of potassium in this pumpkin that has helps blood pressure. Since there are many dietary fibers that have an intestinal regulating effect, it can be helpful in preventing constipation.

It also contains a type of carotenoid called "lutein" which is said to be effective in preventing eye diseases and eye strain.

How to Wash and Cut:

Remove the stem and wash the skin well if you are going to keep it on for the dish you are making (the skin is edible!). One tip to make it easier to cut, is to cut it in half, scoop out the insides and microwave it. Why microwave it? It is common to keep the skin on and microwave pumpkin in Japan as it only needs 2~5 minutes in the microwave and makes it easier to cut and prepare. *Watch the pumpkin when microwaving, as it may cause sparks inside certain microwaves.

If you don't want to microwave it, that is fine, too! You will need a bit of arm strength when cutting it to your desired shape. Use a sharp knife and be careful of the knife slipping!!

If you want to bake, wrap the pumpkin in aluminum foil and bake it for 13-16 minutes at 200 ºC (400 ºF).

When boiling pumpkin, peel it with a peeler or your knife to some extent to make it easier to taste and cook. If you peel all the skin, it will easily crumble, so it's a good idea to leave on more than half of it. You will get plenty of nutrients from the skin.

Certain recipes call for kabocha sliced like below.

Or cut it into chunks like below.

How To Store:

If the pumpkin is whole, wrap it in newspaper and store it in a cool, well-ventilated place. The optimum temperature is about 10 to 15 degrees, and if the storage condition is good, it can be stored for 1 to 2 months.

When cutting, take the seeds and loose insides out, wrap it in plastic wrap, and put it in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator (or cool, but not too cold, area of the fridge). If you can't eat it within a few days, it's a good idea to boil it and freeze it. If you smash the boiled pumpkin while it is hot, you can use it immediately for salads, croquettes, soups, etc.

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