If you celebrate Halloween, know anyone who does, or have ever been near someone who carved a pumpkin, you have probably enjoyed the culinary delight that is the pumpkin seed. Pumpkin seeds are extraordinarily popular all over the world. In places like Greece, pumpkin seeds are a staple in the every day diet. Certain countries in Asia have incorporated pumpkins seeds into both their culinary traditions and their medical practices. Actually, China is leading the world in pumpkin production with India, the Ukraine, Russia, the U.S., and Mexico close behind.
If you are one of the lucky many who have been exposed to pumpkin seeds, then you may have heard of another name for them: pepita. While that name is arguably more fun to say than “pumpkin seed,” and while some manufacturers use the term pepita to refer to a thinner, green, shelled seed, both pumpkin seeds and pepitas come from the same fruit: the pumpkin.
Pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, are delicious, healthy snacks available throughout the year from most grocery stores and online food vendors. Pumpkins are native to North, South, and Central America, which is where they get their alternate name. The Mexican name for pumpkin seed, pepita, comes from the Spanish phrase, “pepita de calabeza,” which translates to “little seed of squash.”
Those of you who have had pepitas like these may balk at the interchange of pepita and pumpkin seedsi. Store-bought pepitas definitely look different than the traditionally shelled pumpkin seeds most of us are used toii. Pepitas are smaller, green, thin, and hulled. The seeds we dig out of carved pumpkins are large, contained within shells, and have a light beige color. Despite those differences, pepitas actually are pumpkin seeds. They just come from certain types of pumpkins.
As this writer discovered after the pain and anguish she experienced while attempting to shell her carved pumpkin’s seeds, pepitas are not simply shelled pumpkin seeds. The store bought pepitas that people are used to were not laboriously excavated from their shells, but actually grew in their pumpkins without them. Oilseed, or Styrian, pumpkins actually produce seeds without shells, making the snack a bit more convenient to eat if you aren’t interested in picking white bits and pieces of shell out of your teeth.
Pepitas are nutrition packed. They have antioxidant properties, antimicrobial benefits, anticarcinogenic agents, and are loaded with important minerals like magnesium, manganese, copper, phosphorous, and especially zinc. And, because they are shell-less, they are also fun additions to salads, baked goods, and granolas. For optimal taste, pepitas should be toasted or roastediii.
So the next time you are craving an affordable and healthy snack, find yourself a pumpkin. If you like the shell, go carve a traditional pumpkin and scoop out the shell-protected seeds. If you’re looking for something softer and easier to integrate into salads and baked goods, find yourself an Oilseed pumpkin and enjoy the unshelled treat. Whether you call your snack pepita or pumpkin seed, it’s guaranteed to be delicious.