Growing up, I loved getting the giant round carving pumpkins that showed up for a month or two prior to Halloween and carving some crude faces into it, and then they'd be forgotten until the next year. Sometimes,though, my grandmother would help me pull the seeds from the copious gooey pulp and roast them for a tasty treat.
Little did I know then that those chewy morsels, much like the flesh of the pumpkin, were miniature nutritional powerhouses, and today, unlike their vessels, pumpkin seeds are available year round.
America's Catching On
In America, we're just now catching up with other cultures in enjoying the taste and nutrition of the pumpkin seed. In Mexico, pepitas are eaten as a snack, or used in mole sauces and garnishes. In Russia and the Ukraine, roasted pumpkin seeds are as common as sunflower seeds.
Pumpkin seeds are rich in B-complex vitamins, vitamin E, and minerals copper, manganese, magnesium, zinc, and iron. Unshelled pumpkin seeds are one of the highest vegetable sources of zinc; a quarter cup of unshelled seeds provides 10mg of this key mineral and antioxidant which plays key roles in the health and function of the skin, digestive tract, prostate, bones, and immune system.
Pumpkin seeds also also high in fiber and are a rich source of plant-based essential fatty acids, including omega-9 oleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), and the amino acids tryptophan and glutamate.
Like other seeds and nuts, the oil of the pumpkin seed carries many of the same health benefits and as well as the same great taste. Pumpkin seed oil has a rich, nutty taste is rich in many polyunsaturated fatty acids. It doesn't hold up to heat well, however, and is best used in dressings and deserts. Pumpkin seed butter, too, can be used in the same manner as peanut butter or almond butter.
Pumpkin seeds are available either raw, toasted, or sprouted, that is, replicating the germination process, which activates and multiplies nutrients, neutralizes enzyme inhibitors, and promotes the growth of vital digestive enzymes. If you're going the raw food route, sprouted is the way to go.
If they're so tasty and nutritious, so why hasn't the pumpkin seed caught on? Part of the reason might be because shelling the pumpkin seed is a very water-intensive and laborious process. To get to the dark green kernel, the hard white exterior shell must be removed – although it should be pointed out that the pumpkin seed exterior is quite edible, if somewhat fibrous.
However, Austrian or Styrian pumpkin seeds (Cucurbita pepo var. styriaca) don't have this problem. About 100 years ago, this cultivar's lost their pithy, fibrous hull, retaining only a thin membrane. As a result, these seeds don't require the labor-intensive shelling that other kinds of pumpkin seeds require. The green seeds you see in stores are most likely this variety.
Shelled pumpkin seeds are great raw, or toasted with a little sea salt. Sprinkle them on breads and salads, add them to trail mix, mix them with yogurt, or just eat 'em raw. They're good, and good for you.
Mercola.com, “9 Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds” found here.
WholeFoods.com, “Pumpkin Seeds” found here.