Autumn means jack-o'-lanterns, pumpkin pie and, of course, pumpkin-spiced everything. While we worship the gourd this season, let’s save some praise for the often overlooked pumpkin seed. Chock-full of protein, manganese (which helps reduce inflammation) and magnesium, pumpkin seeds are as healthy as they are delicious. Here’s a primer for what you need to know about using pumpkin seeds. Next time you buy pumpkins for carving or to make dessert, don’t let those scrumptious seeds go to waste!
What’s the difference between pumpkin seeds and pepitas?
Pepitas are a type of pumpkin seed, but you won’t find them hiding in just any pumpkin. They are not, as many people think, the inside part of every pumpkin seed. Instead, pepitas actually grow shell-free only in Styrian or oil seed pumpkins. The olive-green seeds differ from the white-shelled counterparts you find in other pumpkin varieties. Before you waste your time, shelling those pumpkin seeds won’t get you closer to pepitas.
Thin-skinned pepitas are magical: They can be eaten raw or roasted, as they are crunchy either way, so they require little to no prep work. Meanwhile, pumpkin seeds must be cleaned, dried and roasted, otherwise they are chewy and, well, kinda gross.
Buying pumpkin seeds and pepitas
You’ll find raw pepitas in many grocery stores in the same section where you find other seeds and nuts. For white-shelled pumpkin seeds, you’ll typically need to excavate them yourself from a pumpkin. The seeds of larger pumpkins are chewier and more difficult to get crunchy, Seamus Mullen, chef at the Institute of Culinary Education, told TODAY Food, so if the seeds are what you are after, look for smaller pumpkins.
How to clean pumpkin seeds
Once you bring your pumpkin home, cut off the top and scoop out the seeds with an ice cream scoop or large spoon. At this point, the seeds will be slimy, covered in lots of stringy pulp that you’ll want to clean off.
It can be a pain, but Mullen shared his secrets for getting them clean: “Add a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of kosher salt, and just kind of rub it really well into those seeds. It'll help get some of the extra fibers and mealy gunk off of them. Then, run them under really hot water, or boil them for 5 minutes. Then strain them.”
How to dry pumpkin seeds
To end up with the crispiest pumpkin seeds, make sure they are thoroughly dry before roasting them. “I always put them into a salad spinner to get the majority of the moisture off,” Mulled said. “You can line the salad spinner with a paper towel and it will absorb a little bit more of the moisture as it's sitting around.”
Additionally, said Mullen, to get them really crunchy, put the pumpkin seeds in a dehydrator or on a baking sheet in your oven, set at the lowest temperature, and leave them there overnight. Then take them out before increasing the oven temperature to roast them.
How to season pumpkin seeds and pepitas
Now this is the fun part! Pumpkin seeds and pepitas are the perfect blank canvas for any flavor, making for a super addictive snack, whether your taste skews sweet or savory. Toss the clean, dry seeds in oil (olive oil, melted coconut oil or avocado oil work, depending on the flavor you’re going for). Then, add a seasoning mix. A few ideas:
- Ground cumin, coriander and salt
- Rosemary, thyme, garlic and salt
- Smoked paprika, chile powder, cumin and salt
- Curry powder, lime zest and salt
- Harissa powder and salt
- Pumpkin pie spice and sugar (yep, we went there)
- Cinnamon and sugar
- Cocoa powder, sugar and a pinch of cayenne
“I toss them with a little bit of olive oil and some garlic powder and salt,” Mullen said. After roasting them, I toss them with some chile powder and a squeeze of lime, for a really nice Mexican flavor.”
Start with 1 teaspoon of oil and 1 teaspoon of seasoning for every cup of seeds, and adjust as desired.
How to roast pumpkin seeds and pepitas
Set your oven to 400 F and roast the pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring halfway through. For pepitas, roast for the same amount of time at 350 F. Let cool and enjoy!
How to use pepitas in recipes
Pepitas, even in their raw form, are incredibly versatile. You can add them to homemade granola, cookies, atop salads and yogurt, mixed into veggie burger patties or even as a crunchy, decorative topping to your pumpkin desserts. You can grind them down with a little salt for an allergy-friendly peanut butter alternative. You can use them for a satisfying, nutty, dairy-free milk by soaking 1 cup of raw pepitas, straining and then blending that with 4 cups of water. You can use them as the base for vegan dips, pesto, salsa verde or salad dressings, blending soaked pepitas with a little water, herbs, salt and vinegar.
“I use them to add body to sauces,” Mullen said. “So I'll do a chimichurri and then I'll rough chop pepitas and add them in. Or I’ll blitz them in the Vitamix with some roasted vegetables, like roasted squash, add some olive oil, vinegar and herbs to make a romesco sauce. I use that with fish, grilled meat or just over other vegetables.”
However you enjoy pumpkin seeds or pepitas, there’s no better time than now — peak sweater weather! — to start experimenting with them to upgrade your snacking and your cooking.