You’ve probably encountered a myth about food once or twice in your life. You know, like the idea that eating fat is bad when it’s actually something your body needs. Or how about the myth that claims swallowed gum takes seven years to digest? (FYI, it doesn’t.) Oh! What about the one that proclaims milk as the best source of calcium when yogurt, beans, leafy greens, cheeses, and sardines provide a nutritious amount of calcium? All of these are simply food myths that we love to debunk.
While there are a number of myths out there about food, we’re interested in narrowing it down to fall food myths. We’re looking to debunk myths about pumpkins, carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, and squash. We spoke with Head Chef Simon Moss of the Grosvenor Hotel in Melbourne, Australia, to learn about seasonal foods and how to consume them.
What are some of the benefits of eating seasonal foods?
Before we jump into debunking our favorite fall food myths, we should address why we care about seasonal foods in the first place. Eating seasonally is a step toward a sustainable diet. Eating seasonal produce also means that you’ll be consuming foods with a higher nutritional value. Think about it, fruits and vegetables that are out of season might have been irradiated and preserved in wax in order to extend their shelf life. That doesn’t seem very nutritious …
“When you eat seasonally, a particular product is at its best. The flavor will be true. It will encompass the taste of the season too,” explains Chef Moss. “You’ll taste the sun in some blushing red strawberries picked in January. And celeriac, turnip-rooted celery, has an earthy undertone that can be attributed to the soil it was grown in.”
When you think of the fall season in the Northern Hemisphere, what foods do you think of? We usually crave pumpkin, squash, cranberries, or apples. There’s nothing like going to an apple orchard in the Midwest to handpick apples from the trees. Other seasonal foods of the fall include sweet potatoes, turnips, grapes, kale, figs, carrots, and beets. It’s a great time of year to get your daily dose of natural vitamins and minerals. Plus, it’s cost-effective for you as the consumer to buy seasonally.
“Seasonality generally means abundance and the price of the product will show this,” says Chef Moss. “Buying in-season is when it’s the most cost-effective for the grower and the consumer.”
Fall Food Myths:
Yams and sweet potatoes are interchangeable
Have you ever been to the grocery store and accidentally picked up a yam when you wanted a sweet potato? These two, nutritious vegetables look the same, but they’re different. Noticeable differences are that yams look more like yuccas on the outside. They’re generally larger with a rough, brown exterior. Sweet potatoes vary in size and you can spot their golden, orange-red glow from across the aisle.
On the inside, yams and sweet potatoes are totally different in taste and texture. Yams are not sweet — rather, they’re a starchy vegetable that’s best served roasted.
“Yams are very starchy and don’t lend themselves to as many applications as sweet potatoes,” says Chef Moss. “The interior of the yam is dry. Roasting to enhance their flavor is always guaranteed to work.”
Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are teeming with variety in flavor, nutrients, and preparation. You can have fun with this vegetable during the fall months.
“Sweet potatoes fall under the group of good carbs,” explains Chef Moss. “Sweet potatoes are a versatile vegetable that is equally tasty as a soup or roasted with lots of garlic and thyme or made into crunchy french fries.”
Bon Appétit magazine explains that yams and sweet potatoes are often falsely labeled in recipes and in grocery stores. Back in the day, Louisiana sweet potato growers marketed their orange-fleshed vegetables as “yams” to distinguish them from other states’ produce and it stuck.
Pumpkin pie puree is made from 100% pumpkin
False. We were dumbfounded when we learned of this fall food myth. How could the main ingredient we use to make delicious pumpkin be made with squash? The Kitchn reports that some canned pumpkin puree is actually made from one or more types of winter squash because they’re less stringy and rich with sweetness and color.
As another fun fact, “pumpkin” can be applied to three varieties of winter squash. Mind. Blown. But if you’re dead set on using pure pumpkin in your purees or soups, Chef Moss shared a tasty recipe with us.
“There’s one method that I always use when making purees or soup,” explains Chef Moss. “Deseed, peel, and slice the pumpkin very thinly. Use a wide-based stainless-steel pot that’s large enough for all the pumpkin and add a good amount of unsalted butter. Heat the butter until it becomes beurre noisette, then add the pumpkin slices.”
Sound good so far? Here’s how you make it into a puree.
“Season this with salt and a generous pinch of caster sugar as the sugar is used to enhance the sweetness of the pumpkin. Then cook the pumpkin in the brown butter for about an hour, or until it’s super soft when stirring constantly. Take the pumpkin, including the beurre noisette, and scoop it into a blender and puree it until it’s very smooth.”
Yum! That’s a super easy way to use 100% pumpkin in your next pie rather than use a store-bought can.
Pumpkin flavoring gets its flavor from pumpkins, duh!
Not true. Instead, it’s defined by the spices that usually accompany it. The New York Times released a video that shows how the pumpkin flavor we know and love in items such as a pumpkin spice latte or pumpkin-flavored Cheerios doesn’t actually come from pumpkin. It’s a mix of spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves (plus other additives) that one associates with a pumpkin pie.
A pumpkin flavoring is engineered because pumpkin itself has a subtle taste that doesn’t work well with processed foods. If you’re cooking and want to bring out the real smells and flavors of pumpkin, use butter.
“The reason that method to make pumpkin puree works so well is that it is just pumpkin cooking with some butter … that’s it! There’s nothing else to dilute the flavor,” explains Chef Moss. “The pumpkin also dries out as it cooks on the stove, which intensifies its flavor.”
Raw carrots are more nutritious than cooked carrots
There’s a common food myth that when you cook a vegetable, it loses all of its nutrients. That’s totally false! Carrots are full of vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin K1, potassium, and vitamin B1. When you buy and eat organic carrots seasonally, well, let’s just say you’re the epitome of health. And cooking them actually increases their nutritional value! Heating carrots breaks down the tough cellular walls that encase the beta-carotene, according to Reader’s Digest. Chef Moss shared a great method for how to get the most out of cooking the entire carrot.
“My method for cooking carrots requires a juicer,” explains Chef Moss. “Take an amount of in-season carrots and give them a good wash. Cut off the top of each carrot and take half of the carrots and put them through a juicer. Fine strain the juice into a stainless-steel pot.”
That actually sounds quite fun …
“Peel the other half of the carrots and then thinly slice them into rounds. Put the carrot rounds into the carrot juice and then slowly simmer until the carrot rounds are tender. Strain out the carrot rounds and keep the carrot stock.”
So we’re cooking carrots in carrots? The aromas must be amazing!
“Puree the carrot rounds with the carrot stock until smooth and at the desired consistency. Use more stock for a thinner puree. The reason I like this technique is that it’s similar to my pumpkin recipe. It’s just carrots cooked in its own juice. Simple, but refined.”
When it comes to cooking seasonal food, keep it simple in order to get the most out of its flavors and nutrients. Next time you go to the grocery store, be wary of these fall food myths.