How to Cook Pumpkin Seeds

How to Cook Pumpkin Seeds

Roasted pumpkin seeds (Photo: Wiki Commons).

Roasting Pumpkin Seeds

It's fall again, and time for pumpkins. When you're carving up that fleshy orange fruit consider not wasting the left over seeds and rind. Reducing food waste can be good for you, your wallet, and the environment. First, a few things you should know about pumpkins. The pumpkins that you buy for carving are NOT for cooking. These big pumpkins are specifically grown as ornamentation. If you're planning on making pumpkin pie then buy the smaller, less mealy, and sweater baking pumpkins in your grocers produce section. The big pumpkins that you carve are for just that, carving. However, the carving pumpkin's big seeds still make for a healthy fall treat. This leads to today's post, how to roast pumpkin seeds.

Let's look at exactly what a pumpkin fruit is. Almost everywhere in the world, except the US, a pumpkin is called a squash. It's actually in the gourd family (Cucurbita). It grows on a vine and has a flower with squash-like flowers. Cucurbita pepo the most common type of pumpkin vine. Cucurbita vines have been cultivated in South American and the desert Southwest of North America. The earliest record of the Cucurbita family in the New World are found in caves where the seeds lie in sediment layers well below where corn is found. These are at sites in Peru and Tamaulipas, Mexico.  After over 10,000 years of cultivation the cucurbita vine has yielded a wide variety of cultivars ranging from the zuccini and summer squash to acorn squash, spaghetti squash, warty gourds, and of course the round pumpkin. The round orange one we think about around Halloween are called "field pumpkins" (Cucurbita pepo L.).

Examples of Cucurbita pepo sp. (Photo: Wiki Commons).

The word pumpkin comes from the Greek pepon, meaning large and round melon. The early English changed the term to pompon and pumpion. In Shakespearean literature it is referred to as pumpion ("Merry Wives of Windsor"). Eventually, early American colonists changed the word into pumpkin.

Pumpkins and gourds were a critical part of Native American culture, and explorers such as Columbus, Jacques Cartier, and John Smith all noted their abundance and use. Early colonists would put cut up pumpkin into soups and stews, and of course they made pies. Early Native Americans dried the pumpkin rinds as strips or twists, into a kind of jerky that could be eaten and stored for long periods or boiled and cooked. It wasn't until the 1970's that pumpkins were cultivated for carving. The first carving strain is thought to be the "HowdenStrain" from farmer Jack Howden. You can still order Howden seeds today too.

Even though the big pumpkins we carve are not cultivated for eating, their seeds are still quite edible and healthy. The green seeds are known as pepitas, which originates from a Spanish culinary term (pepita de calabaza) meaning "little seed of the squash." Pumpkin seeds are usually flat and oval. They have a chewy white outer hull and a buttery tasting green inner seed. The seeds are rich in vitamin E and micronutrients. They have a high caloric value that comes from protein and healthy fats. They are also a good source of tryptophan (yes, the same thing found in Turkey that makes you sleepy), B vitamins, copper, zinc, and manganese.

This leads us to exactly how to cook pumpkin seeds. The basics of preparation are the same, as is the cooking time, it's the coating that makes the difference in flavor and taste when you're roasting pumpkin seeds.

You'll need a medium sized pumpkin to start (Photo: Wiki Commons).



 Step 1: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (low and slow is the name of the game).

Step 2: Open up your pumpkin (a medium size works best) and scrape the seeds into a large bowl.

Step 3: Fill the bowl with cold water and separate the seeds from the pulp. Put the seeds into a colander and run them under more cold water for a final rinse.

You want your seeds to be as clean and free of pulp as possible (Photo: Wiki Commons).

Optional step (for crispier seeds): Boil seeds in a medium pot of water, with 1 tbl of salt for 10 minutes. You can also soak the seeds in room temperature salt water for about 15 minutes. Salt helps break down the enzymes that sometimes make the seeds hard to digest and it makes for crisper seeds.

Step 4: Oil a baking sheet or cookie pan, then spread the washed seeds in one layer on the pan. You can lightly coat the seeds in olive oil at this stage, or wait for the "flavoring" stage (see below).

Step 5: Roast the seeds for about 30 minutes on the pan. I usually turn them about 15 minutes in, to ensure even drying on both sides.

Your roasted pumpkin seeds will be whiteish to tan colored, depending on how long you let them roast (Photo: Wiki Commons).


STEP 6:Your seeds will still need about 20 minutes more of baking, but this is the fun part, figuring out what you want to season them with. Of course you could always just put them in the oven and bake them for 20 more minutes and leave them plain, or you can toss them in seasoning and return them to the oven for some final drying (again on a very lightly greased pan). Here are some suggestions of my favorite pumpkin seed recipes:

  • Smoky Sea Salt: Toss with alder smoked sea salt (to taste) and 2-3 tbl. of olive oil
  • BBQ: Toss with olive oil (2-3 tbl), chili powder, and garlic powder to taste
  • Curry: Add 2-3 tbl. of olive oil and powdered curry to taste, toss together
  • Hot Sriracha: Add 2-3 tbl. of Sriracha and toss the seeds, the bake
  • Pesto and Parmesan cheese: Coat seeds in 2-3 tbl (or to taste) of basil pesto and Parmesan cheese, then bake; you can add olive oil if you need to
  • Old Bay: Coat the seeds in olive oil (2-3 tbl) and sprinkle the seeds with Old Bay seasoning.
  • Rosemary and Sea Salt: Toss with olive oil (2-3 tbl), rosemary, and sea salt
  • Italian: Coat with olive oil (2-3 tbl), dry Parmesan cheese, and oregano or dried basil.
  • Soy Savory: Coat with 2-3 tbl. of soy sauce and ground ginger
  • Coconut and honey: Mix seeds with 2-3 tbl of honey (more if needed), add in coconut flakes, and bake (you can add in toasted coconut too)
  • Orange and Ginger: Coat seeds in 2-3 tbl. of orange juice and orange zest, add powdered ginger (you can also add lime juice for a kick)
  • Cinnamon and Sugar: Coat with olive oil (2-3 tbl), cinnamon, and sugar to taste (nutmeg and pumpkin spice works well too).
  • Maple and Spice: Add 2-3 tbl. of maple syrup (the real thing), cloves, and a dash of pumpkin pie spice, toss and bake

NOTE: you can be creative and swap olive oil with butter, coconut oil, or your favorite coating.

Step 7: For cleaning the pan you can fill the pan with a water and then put baking soda on the more baked-on bits. Let this sit for about 15-20 minutes and your pan will be much easier to clean.

Roasting pumpkin seeds isn't really difficult, and they make a great fall snack for long hike, football games, or parties. You can even bundle them into colorful bags and give them out to friends or set them out in a bowl at the office. They're way healthier than chocolate or candy this time of year.