Pumpkin seeds are a popular healthy snack. They are green, flat, and oval, and often come from Styrian oil pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo var. styriaca) because their seeds do not have to be peeled. Pumpkin seeds can be purchased raw or roasted. Raw seeds are always sold dried to prevent them from rotting.
Raw pumpkin seeds are a crunchy snack and a delicious treat in salads, soups, and muesli mixes (for example, Erb Muesli with Rolled Oats). You can also add them whole or chopped to sauces, spreads, and baked goods. Dried pumpkin seeds can also be eaten with rice, pasta, and vegetables — see, for example, the recipe Shaved Celery Root Linguini.
Pumpkin seeds are known as pepitas in Mexico and Latin America and are used in many traditional Mexican dishes. In Spain, they are called “pipián,” while in Greece, lightly roasted, salted, and peeled pumpkin seeds are known as “passatempo.” In the US, pumpkin seeds are often marinated and roasted to make a delicious snack.1 Raw (unroasted) pumpkin seeds are always much healthier than roasted varieties.
Pumpkin seeds are also pressed to make pumpkin seed oil.
First, remove the pumpkin flesh from the seeds. The best way to do this is in a bowl of water: the water helps to separate the fibers from the seeds. You can also put the seeds in heavily salted water to loosen the remaining flesh. Rub the seeds with a dishcloth to remove any remaining fibers. Use a cloth to dry the seeds and then leave them to dry in the sun, a dehydrator, or oven with the door slightly cracked at a maximum temperature of 40 °C. Once the seeds have dried, they can be removed from their shells. We recommend using a rolling pin on a smooth surface to do this. Apply light pressure with the rolling pin to crack the shells. Insert a knife, scissors, or your thumbnails into this crack to then free the seeds from their shells.
You can also briefly boil the pumpkin seeds in water. However, this exposes them to high temperatures and means that they technically aren’t raw.
Dried pumpkin seeds can be purchased in a range of qualities. You should try to find organic pumpkin seeds. Styrian oil pumpkin seeds are particularly tasty thanks to their intense flavor; however, other types of smaller, rounder pumpkin seeds are still worth buying.
You can buy dried pumpkin seeds at all major supermarkets such as Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (United States); Extra Foods, Metro, and Freshmart (Canada); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, and Lidl (Great Britain); Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, and Harris Farm (Australia). They are usually salted, and sometimes even come in special flavors such as wasabi, curry, honey, caramelized sugar, and chocolate. Keep in mind, however, that these additives may encourage excessive consumption.
Raw dried pumpkin seeds can be found in health food stores and organic shops. Alternatively, you can make them yourself.
Pumpkin seeds are best stored in a well-sealed container in a dark, dry place. Here, they can be kept for several months.
At 574 calories per 100 grams, pumpkin seeds are rich in calories. The calories are primarily fat (49 g/100 g) and protein (30 g/100 g).
Pumpkin seeds unfortunately have an extremely poor ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids (172:1). In contrast, flaxseed contains an almost perfect ratio of 1:4. See the tables below for detailed nutritional information2 and the link in the box above. According to the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids should not exceed 5:1 (LA: ALA). Eating Erb Muesli is an example of how you can improve your fatty acid ratio in favor of omega-3 fatty acids. In the list of ingredients, use the “sort by nutritional values” function to select healthy ingredients or ingredients that may balance out your meals. This function can also be used in recipes, allowing you, for example, to sort ingredients by their omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. For a detailed explanation of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, see our page on olive oil.
Pumpkin seeds contain a wide variety of antioxidants that trap reactive free radicals in our body and are responsible for most of the effects we get from eating pumpkin seeds. These include phenolic acids, lignans (a phytoestrogen), phytosterols, and carotenoids (e.g., beta-carotene and lutein).
Pumpkin seeds offer additional nutritional benefits. At 1233 mg/100 g, they are rich in phosphorus. This is comparable to the amount of phosphorus found in unshelled hemp seeds (1'650 mg/100 g). And 100 g of pumpkin seeds contain 592 mg magnesium, or 158 % of the recommended daily intake. This is similar to the amount of magnesium found in wheat bran. The trace mineral manganese is found in quantities of 4.5 mg/100 g. This represents about 225 % of a woman’s recommended daily intake and is comparable to the levels of manganese found in rolled oats. Zinc and iron are also found in small quantities in pumpkin seeds.1
Pumpkin seed protein also provides a lot of lysine, an amino acid that is usually found in very small quantities in most grains. When it comes to protein, this makes pumpkin seeds an excellent supplement to grains.
Tryptophan, another amino acid, is also abundant in pumpkin seeds (100 g contains 230 % of the recommended daily intake).3 Pumpkin seeds contain more tryptophan than many animal products that are rich in protein. Tryptophan is important for the production of serotonin, which is a precursor to melatonin.
Serotonin benefits your mood, while melatonin ensures a good night’s sleep. There are studies that show that regularly eating pumpkin seeds can have a positive effect on sleep problems.4
Pumpkin seeds unfortunately have an extremely poor ratio of linoleic acid (LA, inflammatory) to alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, anti-inflammatory). You could try to balance this ratio by combining pumpkin seeds with walnuts or macadamia nuts.2
Pumpkins contain phytic acid; however, this is not all bad news. Although phytic acid binds minerals and makes them unavailable for consumption, it can also have positive effects on one’s health. You can briefly soak the seeds to help reduce the amount of phytic acid that pumpkin seeds contain.
We recommend eating unsalted pumpkin seeds because you are less likely to eat too many of them at once.
If you plant your own pumpkin, zucchini, melons, or cucumbers, it is important to use certified organic seeds. Otherwise, seeds obtained from the vegetables themselves may have been backcrossed and because of this may taste bitter and contain toxic cucurbitacins.
Environmental stress such as heat, fluctuations in temperature, fungal infections, overripening, and incorrect storage can also lead to increased cucurbitacin content in Cucurbitaceae plants (pumpkin, zucchini, melon, and cucumber). In addition, ornamental pumpkins should not be grown near other pumpkins or zucchini as backcrosses may occur.9
Vegetables in the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae) are heat resistant and don’t dissolve in water. This means that they retain their nutrients when cooked. They have a slightly bitter flavor and contain a very low concentration of bitter substances so this bitterness is usually hardly noticeable (the threshold for being able to taste the bitter substances is 10–6 mol/L). These bitter substances have strong laxative, diuretic, hypotensive, and antirheumatic effects.1
Pumpkin seeds and medicines made from pumpkin seeds have been traditionally used to strengthen the bladder, particularly for people suffering from bladder problems such as elderly individuals and women.5 The nutrients contained in pumpkin seeds can also help people who have an irritable bladder or urinary problems related to prostate enlargement.6
While pumpkin seeds may relieve symptoms related to prostate enlargement, eating them does not help to reduce the enlargement. This is why men should undergo a regular prostate check when they go to the doctor.
In particular, the lignans (phytoestrogens) they contain appear to be responsible for the positive benefits of eating pumpkin seeds. Recent research shows that lignans help to regulate our hormones. They also regulate bladder function.5,6
Lignans are found in high concentrations in aqueous extracts of pumpkin seeds. The recommended daily dose of this aqueous extract is about ten grams, or approximately 2–3 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds per day.7
Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil are also said to help against intestinal worms.7
Pumpkins are grown in a variety of climates, from hot and dry areas to cool, cloudy forests. However, most species grow in warm lowland regions with distinct wet and dry seasons. Pumpkins require lots of sunlight and are sensitive to frost.
You can find information about the cultivation and harvest of pumpkins on our page about pumpkins.
The original form of the pumpkin (Curbita pepo), the domesticated form of the garden pumpkin, dates back to the inhabitants of the Guilá Naquitz cave in the province of Oaxaca (not Oxaca), Mexico (about 8000 BCE). Further findings come from Tikal (2000 BCE to 850 CE) and Peru (3000 BCE). Cucurbita moschata (e.g., butternut squash) was domesticated in Central America, and Cucurbita maxima (e.g., winter squash) in South America. Cultivation of pumpkins is documented in India, Java, Angola, and Japan in the nineteenth century.8
Humans are thought to have originally used the nutritious seeds because they are free of bitter compounds, while the wild pumpkin varieties all produce bitter seeds. Selecting nonbitter forms has enabled us to use pumpkins as vegetables.
There are five pumpkin species in cultivation today: Japanese pie pumpkins (Cucurbita argyrosperma), fig-leaf gourds or Malabar gourd (Cucurbita ficifolia), winter squash and other cultivars (Cucurbita maxima), butternut squash and other cultivars (Cucurbita moschata), and summer squash and other varieties (Cucurbita pepo). Pumpkins thrive in everything from the coastal dune sand to clay lowland or rocky soils, but they need a great deal of sunlight.8