Pumpkin Spice Muffins: A Healthy and Nutritious Recipe
A Nutritious and Healthy Fruit
Pumpkins are colourful and nutritious fruits that are loaded with beta-carotene, which our bodies convert into vitamin A. They are a good source of other vitamins and of minerals as well. Pumpkin muffins are excellent at any time of the year, but they are especially nice during autumn harvest festivals and the Halloween and Thanksgiving celebrations. They’re easy to make and can be a very healthy food if they're made with the right ingredients. They can also be turned into a special treat when a cream cheese topping is spread on the baked muffins.
The large muffins that can be bought in stores and restaurants are usually loaded with fat and sugar. They often contain artificial colours, flavours, preservatives and other unhealthy ingredients. It's quick and easy to make muffins at home, where ingredients and size can be controlled. Muffin recipes are very versatile because their ingredients can be changed to produce new flavours and new nutritional value. The recipe in this article is the one that I use when I want to make pumpkin spice muffins.
Pumpkin as Part of a Healthy Diet
Pumpkin is a nutritionally rich food and has many health benefits. I eat canned pureed pumpkin all year long as a dessert. The addition of a healthy sugar substitute and spices makes a delicious mixture. Pumpkin is very low in fat and low in sugar. Like all foods from plants, it's cholesterol free.
The colour of pumpkin comes from beta-carotene, which is an orange pigment that is also abundant in carrots. One half cup of pumpkin provides more than our daily requirement for beta-carotene. Beta-carotene in food (but not in supplements) seems to have a number of important health benefits, including improving the functioning of the immune system and reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Pumpkin is also rich in vitamin C. In addition, it's a significant source of vitamin E and a variety of B vitamins. It also contains a range of minerals, including useful amounts of potassium, copper, manganese, magnesium, iron, calcium, and zinc. Beta-carotene and vitamin E are fat soluble, so a small quantity of healthy oil should be eaten with pumpkin to promote the absorption of these nutrients.
Pumpkin is a good source of soluble fibre. This type of fibre forms a gel when it mixes with water in the small intestine. The gel lowers the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood, which is the harmful type of cholesterol that increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. (HDL cholesterol is beneficial and actually reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes.)
A pumpkin contains seeds and is technically a fruit. It can be eaten raw, although most people prefer the taste and texture of the cooked form. The heat of cooking destroys some of the nutrients, however, including vitamin C.
Is pumpkin part of your diet?
Flour Choice for Muffin Recipes
I like to use stone-ground whole wheat flour for baking. This type of flour is coarser than other kinds and contains more of the grain’s nutrients. In addition, when grain is stone-ground it undergoes less oxidation than when it’s milled by conventional methods.
Flour substitutions work if whole wheat flour produces too dense a muffin for your liking. You may be able to find a stone-ground whole wheat pastry flour, which has a finer texture. Combining all purpose white flour with ordinary whole wheat flour will also produce muffins with a lighter texture. This combination is probably best if you haven’t eaten high fibre muffins before or if you don’t like high fibre baked goods. If you choose to use white flour in baking, it’s a good idea to make sure that it’s unbleached.
Whole wheat flour doesn’t keep as long as white flour. It should be bought in small quantities and stored in a cool place or in a refrigerator.
Sunflower oil is a good source of vitamin E. The high oleic version is rich in healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, including oleic acid. Regular sunflower oil is high in polyunsaturated fats, which aren’t quite as healthy for us. The oil has a neutral taste.
A healthy eater doesn’t need to avoid fat, but he or she does need to eat the right kind of fats and to eat them in moderation. Our bodies need good fats to function properly. In addition, the fat or oil in a meal helps the absorption of certain nutrients in the small intestine.
Apple sauce can be used instead of oil in baked goods. In my muffin recipe, the apple sauce reduces the amount of oil that’s needed and also adds some sweetness. This means that less sweetener is needed in the recipe. I don’t replace all of the oil with apple sauce because I like to get some of the oil’s health benefits and because even unsweetened apple sauce is high in sugar in the form of fructose. A different vegetable oil can be used in the recipe if you prefer. The apple sauce and the pumpkin create a moist texture in the muffin.
Sweetener and Milk
Blackstrap molasses contains sucrose. This is the substance present in white refined sugar, so it shouldn’t be used in large amounts. Unlike refined sugar, though, blackstrap molasses is a good source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. It has a strong and distinctive taste, which some people love. It also has a very dark colour.
In the recipe below, brown rice syrup can be used instead of molasses. Brown rice syrup is one of my favourite sweeteners. It has a golden colour and a toffee-like taste when it’s eaten on its own. It gives a mild sweetness to baked goods. In this recipe it has the advantage of letting more of the pumpkin colour and flavour appear in the baked muffins. When blackstrap molasses is used as a sweetener the batter becomes dark.
Buttermilk generally isn't high in fat, despite its name. It's usually made from low fat milk that has been fermented by bacteria. Artificial buttermilk can be made by adding one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk and letting the milk stand for five to ten minutes.
Ingredients for Pumpkin Spice Muffins
This quick and easy recipe produces twelve average-sized muffins that are moist and spicy.
- 2 cups of stone-ground whole wheat flour or of a flour combination, such as one cup of ordinary whole wheat flour and one cup of unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 cup unsweetened canned pumpkin puree
- 1/2 cup of buttermilk
- 1/4 cup high or mid-oleic sunflower oil
- 1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
- 1/3 cup blackstrap molasses or brown rice syrup
- 2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
The spices can be replaced with two teaspoons of a pumpkin pie spice mixture.
1/2 to 3/4 cup raisins, blueberries, or other berries
1/2 to 3/4 cups chopped nuts (I think that pecans are especially nice.)
3/4 cup of chocolate chips (I buy chocolate chips that are sweetened with malted grains instead of refined sugar. You will probably need to go to a health food store or market to find these.)
I sometimes use 1/3 cup unrefined brown sugar as a sweetener in this recipe. In this case, I increase the amount of milk to one cup.
- Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Mix the pureed pumpkin, buttermilk, sunflower oil, apple sauce and blackstrap molasses or brown rice syrup together.
- In another bowl mix the dry ingredients together.
- Mix the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients. Stir until just combined and don’t over-mix. The muffin batter will be quite stiff.
- Divide the mixture into 12 lined, oiled, or nonstick muffin cups. Fill each cup about three quarters full.
- Bake the muffins for twenty to twenty-five minutes. When they’re ready to be removed from the oven, the muffins should feel firm when touched and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin should look clean when it’s removed.
- Leave the muffins in the cups for about ten minutes, then remove them and cool them on a wire rack.
Pumpkin Coco-Carrot Muffins: Another Healthy Recipe
Spreads and Toppings
I sometimes cut a muffin in half and spread low-fat cream cheese on each half. Cream cheese also makes a delicious topping for baked muffins, especially when it's mixed with a small amount of one or more of the following substances.
- whole, unrefined brown sugar
- maple sugar
- maple syrup
- brown rice syrup
- honey (I like buckwheat honey, which has a dark colour and a strong flavour)
- canned pumpkin
- shredded coconut
- instant coffee
- vanilla extract
- lemon extract
- peppermint extract
- pumpkin pie spice
- nut or seed butter
A layer of cream cheese topped with sliced fruit or nuts is also nice on top of a muffin. Nut and seed butters on their own make great muffin spreads and toppings. They are nutritious foods, even though they contain fat. I make my favorite nut butter spread by mixing hazelnut butter with cocoa and a sugar-free sweetener such as erythritol. Adding spices to toppings or to recipes not only provides a nice taste but also supplies additional health benefits, which depend on the spice.
Another Recipe for Spicy Pumpkin Muffins
Erythritol as a Healthy Sweetener
Erythritol occurs naturally in some fruits and fermented foods. It's made for consumers by yeast fermentation of glucose. It’s virtually calorie-free and doesn’t cause tooth decay. It also has no effect on blood sugar.
Erythritol is one of the sugar alcohols, like xylitol, maltito,l and sorbitol. Unlike sorbitol, erythritol doesn’t have a tendency to cause diarrhea. Xylitol is a healthy sugar substitute, but it’s dangerous if dogs eat it and can even be deadly for them.
The erythritol sold in my local health food stores is expensive, but I was pleased to find some reasonably priced single-serve packets in a supermarket recently. I consider erythritol to be too expensive to use in baked goods, but in small quantities it’s great for perking up foods or drinks that need a bit of sweetening.
Muffins are quick to make for a snack or for part of a meal. Pumpkin spice muffins are a delicious variety. The ingredients can be tweaked each time the muffins are made in order to try different variations or to change the proportion of the ingredients. You can probably think of new things to add to the muffins and their toppings. It’s always fun to experiment with recipes.
Nutrients in cooked pumpkin from SELFNutritionData
Carotenoid (including beta-carotene) information from Oregon State University
Soluble fibre information from WebMD
Nutrients in high oleic sunflower oil from SELFNutritionData
Monounsaturated fat information from the American Heart Association
Molasses facts from Berkeley Wellness
A dietitian discusses erythritol on the Today show website (from NBC)
© 2011 Linda Crampton