Pumpkin seeds are trending strong, and there are MANY good reasons why. Also known as pepitas, pumpkin seeds are flying off grocery store shelves and emerging as a star ingredient in bakeries and restaurants, adding new flavor and a whopping nutritional boost to appetizers, main dishes, desserts, breads, and a wide range of baked goods. You would never know it from the outside, but all wrapped up in a tiny, convenient package, pumpkin seeds are:
- Environmentally friendly
- A plant-based alternative to dairy (be on the lookout for a growing number of milks, cheeses, and yogurts made from flax and pumpkin seeds, right next to the also-trending soy, rice, and coconut milk products)
- A protein alternative to meat
- Super-easy to include in a wide range of recipes
Pumpkin Seeds – Nutritional Powerhouses
Did you know that the National Restaurant Association lists seeds among its top 20 food trends? Likewise, many food experts are hailing them as the new ‘superfoods.’ But as we have already seen in our ongoing series on Trending Ancient Grains and Seeds, many of the crops being marketed as ‘new’ in the food industry have been consumed for millennium. Moreover, most of them are nutritional powerhouses, chock-full of vitamins, minerals, proteins, healthy fats, fibre, antioxidants, and more.
If you are striving to meet consumer demand for healthier food choices and cater to your customers with special dietary needs, adding pumpkin seeds to your catering service or restaurant menu might be just the recipe you are looking for…
About Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are flat, dark green, have a slightly chewy texture, and boast a subtle sweet, nutty flavor. Produced without a shell or encased in a yellowish husk, they belong to the gourd family – squash, cucumber, watermelon, and cantaloupe. They can be purchased as raw-unshelled, raw-shelled, roasted-unshelled, and roasted-shelled.
However, if you work in the foodservice industry and want to ensure maximum freshness, the experts recommend that you purchase only organic raw pumpkin seeds and light-roast them yourself, or you can prepare the seeds straight from the pumpkin as follows: 1) Remove the seeds from the pumpkin’s inner cavity; 2) Wipe off the pulp using a paper towel; 3) Spread the seeds evenly on a paper bag or paper towel and dry overnight.
How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds
The advantage of roasting pumpkins seeds yourself is that you avoid any potential contaminants that may be found in store-bought products, and you have full control over the roasting time and temperature. In fact, the key to preparing roasted pumpkin seeds without changing their essence is to limit roasting time to no more than 15-20 minutes. These guidelines are based on studies that show that beyond the 20-minute threshold, several unwanted changes occur in the seed’s fat structure making this timeframe ideal for bringing out the full roasted pumpkin seed flavor.
How to roast pumpkin seeds: Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and light-roast them for 15-20 minutes with the oven set at a temperature of 160-170°F (75°C).
Be sure to store your stock in an airtight container in the fridge, and while edible for several months, note that pumpkin seeds lose their peak freshness after about two months.
Pumpkin Seed History
If you have been following this pumpkin trail and are wondering where the term ‘ pepitas‘ comes from, here is the scoop: It hails from the plant’s rich Native American heritage and the fact that the indigenous species stems from South America, where the consumption of pumpkin seeds has been traced back to the Aztec era circa 1300-1500 AD. A Mexican-Spanish term, pepitas is short for “pepita de calabaza,” which means “little seed of squash.”
A valued crop from the outset, Native American tribes cherished pumpkin seeds for both their dietary and medicinal properties. Over time, through trade and exploration, pumpkin seed popularity spread to Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean (Greece in particular) and then to India and Asia where they became a staple of everyday cuisine. Today, China continues to produce more pumpkins than any other country. The United States is also a major producer, with over 100,000 acres of farmland dedicated to pumpkin patches. Grown today in almost all U.S. states, the largest cultivators are Illinois, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New York.
Pumpkin Seeds Make Headline News
Headlines reading “Pumpkin Seeds Pack a Healthy Punch,” and “Top 11 Science-Based Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds” are hard to ignore, especially when issued by the American Heart Association and healthline.com respectively. So, let’s zoom in and get a taste for what the excitement is all about and why food pros and even the World Health Organization advocates adding pumpkins seeds to recipes, dishes, and restaurant menus.
Pumpkin Seed Nutrients
Small in size, but huge in the nutrient department, eating pumpkin seeds can provide you with significant amounts of protein, iron, fiber, healthy fats, magnesium, zinc, antioxidants, Tyrptophan as well as small amounts of Vitamins B, B2, E, K, and more!
Take magnesium, for example. Did you know that magnesium is required for hundreds of chemical reactions in the body and that adequate levels are important for healthy bones, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and the heart? Moreover, it is often lacking in Western world diets, giving rise to magnesium deficiencies and health complications such as osteoporosis, constipation, insomnia, low energy, low blood sugar, and more.
Fortunately, pumpkin seeds are one of the best natural sources of magnesium – in fact, you can get 42% of the daily recommended intake in only 1/4 cup. Likewise, in only 1/4 cup, you can get 16% of your daily needs for iron, 5 grams of fiber (that’s more than many nuts), 23% of your daily zinc requirements (known to improve immune health, help carbohydrate metabolism, and boost hormone production), and a significant amount of protein (5 grams per ounce), including the amino acid tryptophan, a serotonin production-, sleep-, and mood-booster. Moreover, 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds only contains 72 calories.
Want to up the protein content in familiar recipes? Simply toss a handful of pumpkin seeds into your salads, soups, stir-fries, oatmeal, smoothies – and voila! Better yet, nowadays you can even purchase raw, organic pumpkin seed protein powder for an even more potent way to get your fill.
And here’s another tasty nugget of info for your customers who are allergic to soy, dairy, wheat, gluten, nuts, and more. The protein in pumpkin seeds is soy-free and of course, the seeds are naturally nut-free, dairy free, wheat free, and gluten-free.
And there’s more! If your customers are clamouring for foods with healthy fats, once again, pumpkin seeds fit the bill as they are a rich source of mono-unsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids that are good for your heart. Moreover, since even healthy fats are not meant to be consumed in large quantities, the single-portion size provided by seeds is just right.
Finally, have you ever paid attention to the green hue of raw pumpkin seeds? Well, tune in now because their green color is an indication of the high amount of chlorophyll in them, which is higher than most nuts and seeds and which acts as a natural cleanser/detoxifier in the body. For this reason, pumpkin seeds are being hailed as one of the most surprising, beneficial, and immune-boosting superfoods on the market.
Pumpkin Seed Serving Suggestions
If all this talk has whetted your appetite for some great recipes, you’re in luck! Here are some of the many ways you can add pumpkins seeds to the foods your customers already love, plus some new recipes to tantalize their taste buds and ensure that they will be back for more…
Eaten on their own, as a snack, or incorporated into meals, consider the following uses of pumpkin seeds:
- Add them to fruit, nut, and trail mixtures
- Add them to breads and cakes
- Sprinkle them on hot or cold cereals, on top of salads, and into soups
- Add them to sautéed vegetables
- Make a tasty salad dressing by combining pumpkin seeds with parsley, cilantro leaves, and fresh garlic and mix with olive oil and lemon juice
- Add them to granola bar and oatmeal cookie recipes
- Throw some ground pumpkin seeds into your beef, turkey, or veggie burgers or add them to meatballs
- Use them as a garnish for appetizers, squash dishes, and whole grain dishes
- Add to your favorite smoothies, milkshakes, yogurts, and energy drinks
- Throw whole, raw pumpkin seeds into your food processor and grind to make seed butter
- Add them to your chef’s favorite stuffing recipes
- Brush with olive oil, season with garlic powder and cumin, and bake until toasty brown
Tossed Pumpkin Seed Recipes
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F. Using a spoon, seed a pumpkin by scraping out the pulp and seeds and by separating the seeds from the pulp. Rinse seeds in fine-mesh colander under cold water and dry by spreading them in a single layer on a baking sheet and lightly roasting for 20 minutes.
Then, enjoy experimenting with the following sweet and savory tossed pumpkin seed recipe ideas:
- Toss with salt, olive oil, and your choice of spices; return to oven and bake for another 20 minutes until golden and crisp.
- Toss with a cinnamon-and-sugar mixture
- Indian toss by mixing with currents and garam masala (a blend of ground spices used extensively in Indian cuisine)
- Spanish toss by mixing with hot paprika and slivered almonds
- Italian toss with dried oregano and grated parmesan cheese
- Barbecue toss with chilli powder, ground cumin, and brown sugar
Now that you are aware of the great potential wrapped up in a tiny pumpkin seed, don your baker or chef’s hat, let your creative culinary juices flow, and see what mouth-watering pumpkin seed recipes you can create! Whatever you come up with, it will be a ‘win-win’ for you, your customers and your foodservice business.