Pumpkin Seeds 101: The Jack-O-Lantern’s Healthy, Crunchy Bonus Treat

shutterstock_221167054

Craving something crunchy? Carve out space in your nutrient-rich diet for some pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas). The packaged version of this shelled or unshelled seed can be enjoyed year round, and the fall season offers the perfect opportunity to roast your own. Their satisfying crunch is sure to keep your palate happy—and benefit your body!

Adding pumpkin seeds into your cereal, salad, or saut, or grabbing a handful to munch on their own, lends a protein punch to your meal. In addition to protein, pumpkin seeds contain an abundance of other nutrients including zinc, magnesium, copper, and potassium, which offer benefits like boosting immunity and energy and aiding in digestion. So don’t toss those pumpkin seeds after your carving party; instead, embrace their yum factor!

Identification

Pumpkin seeds are sold in grocery stores either shelled or unshelled. Shelled, raw pumpkin seeds are small, white ovals. The unshelled seed is tiny and green—this is what is most commonly referred to as a pepita. You may also find shelled or unshelled roasted pumpkin seeds.

Look for pumpkin seeds on the nut shelf in the Hispanic or South American food section, in the health food aisle, produce area, or in bulk grain and nut bins.

Taste

Raw pumpkin seeds have a slightly sweet, nutty flavor that deepens when they’re roasted. Once roasted, you can enhance the seeds’ natural taste with any number of spices—try salt, cumin, curry, cayenne, paprika, garlic, brown sugar, cinnamon—experiment!

Availability

Raw and pre-roasted pumpkin seeds are widely available in supermarkets and health food stores throughout the year.

Season

To roast fresh pumpkin seeds, you’ll need fall pumpkins, available in the US and Europe from about September through December. Producers deliver packaged pumpkin seeds throughout the year.

Selection

Most supermarkets carry either raw or roasted pumpkin seeds, or both. You may find them packaged or in bulk bins.

Avoid pumpkin seeds that are shriveled, as this suggests they were exposed to water and/or insects. When you lift the lid off a bulk bin of pumpkin seeds, make sure they release a fresh, nutty scent. Musty or rancid-smelling pumpkin seeds have gone bad.

Organic Benefits

When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen”. These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides. 

Pumpkins are not specifically highlighted on any list, but winter squash (a relative of pumpkin) ranks #25 on the full EWG list, a little closer to the “Clean Fifteen” than the “Dirty Dozen” list, so they are likely okay either way. This is because, in general, pumpkins require fewer pesticides than other fruits and vegetables in conventional farming. That said, some studies suggest that pesticides can strip nutrients from the soil when used for years on end. Theoretically, what the soil lacks in nutrients, so does the plant. However, there are limited studies and much more research is needed to substantiate these claims. What this means for you, the buyer, is you can’t really go wrong—both organic and non-organic pumpkin seeds are perfectly healthy.

Storage

Pumpkin seeds keep well in airtight containers or bags in your pantry for about a month. You can also store them this way in the refrigerator for up to three months, although their peak freshness may decline after about six weeks.

Preparation

Though you can enjoy packaged raw pumpkin seeds, most people prefer them roasted. To make your own, rinse seeds under cool water and pat dry with paper towels to remove the stringy pulp after harvesting them from a pumpkin.

You can then simmer seeds in salt and water for about 10 minutes, if desired. This adds flavor and enhances crispiness.

Coat the seeds in 1 tablespoon of oil and add seasoning of your choice, such as salt, brown sugar, etc. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Cook at a lower temperature (170 degrees F) for 15 to 20 minutes to yield optimal nutritional value. Alternatively, to enhance the crispiness, cook at a higher temperature (400˚F) until brown—from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the seeds. Once roasted, enjoy out-of-hand, sprinkled over salads, mixed with hot cereal, or tossed with sautéed vegetables.

Keep in mind that while most recipes call for rinsing the seeds, some people opt to skip this step to save time and energy. The pulp caramelizes onto the seeds (making them slightly sweeter). So, consider how this might affect your seasoning.

Nutrition Summary

Zinc

Zinc offers a host of health benefits, aiding the body’s sense of taste, vision, and smell, and also plays a role in blood clotting, thyroid and metabolism health, and insulin sensitivity. This abundant mineral is also helpful for promoting immune system health and skin repair.

Magnesium

Magnesium is responsible for promoting cardiovascular health, muscle contraction and relaxation, energy production, and proper bone formation. This essential nutrient may also be helpful in regulating healthy blood-sugar levels, decreasing the likelihood of type 2 diabetes.

Copper

A mineral that plays a role in producing collagen and keeping the immune system in proper working order, copper is an essential nutrient needed by the body in small amounts. Copper may also fight against free radicals, helping to delay the aging process. Energy production is also one of the many benefits of this important mineral.

Potassium

Alongside sodium and chloride, potassium is an electrolyte essential for conducting electrical reactions in the body. Potassium aids proper muscle function, digestive health, and skeletal contractions.

Protein

Composed of amino acids (building blocks of protein), this essential nutrient aids in the healing of wounds and the growth of hair, skin, and nails; provides a substantial amount of energy and satiation; catalyzes metabolic reactions; and promotes a healthy hormonal and immune system response.

Health Benefits & Medical Claims

Pumpkins seeds are rich in zinc, which is vital to the immune and digestive systems. In fact, one cup of unshelled pumpkin seeds contains nearly half the daily zinc requirement. That same cupful of pumpkin seeds contains 12 grams of protein, which builds tissues and repairs tissue damage and is perfect for staving off mid-afternoon energy slumps. It also offers a healthy dose of magnesium for a healthy heart and strong bones. Note that raw pumpkin seeds contain more vitamins K and E than the roasted ones, so be sure to alternate varieties.

Little Known Facts
  1. Pumpkin seeds are also known as pepitas, which comes from “pepita de Calabaza,” meaning “little seed of squash.”
  2. Allergies to pumpkin seeds are very rare, so they are great to have on hand when entertaining guests!
  3. China is the world’s number-one producer of pumpkins and pumpkin seeds.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Yoffie Life disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.