Pumpkin Seeds for a healthy snack
Pumpkin seeds or ‘Pepita’ from the Mexican Spanish, ‘Pepita de calabaza’ are crunchy goto handfuls, that can rev up any meal from a breakfast, a mid-morning snack, a tea time bite or a pre-dinner munch. Although, many may prefer pumpkin seeds as a breakfast starter, these innocuous looking titbits have made their way into power packed menus and diets.
Pumpkin seeds are also called the ‘little seeds of squash’. They are light green in colour, oval and flat in appearance and have a white outer hull. These seeds are rather weightless but can prove their weight in gold for their nutritional value.
Pump up on facts
With pumpkin seeds gaining ground as a health super food, it is time to know vital details about pumpkins.
What is a Pumpkin?
For the uninitiated, pumpkin is a type of squash and a fruit of the pumpkin vine. Pumpkins are part of the ‘Cucurbita’ family that includes cucumbers and squash. There are many varieties of the pumpkin which come in myriad sizes, shape, and color. The seeds and flowers of all varieties of pumpkins are edible.
Pumpkins contain 90% water. They are also rich in potassium and Vitamin A. Dating back to colonial times, Native Americans used pumpkins in rather interesting ways. They used pumpkins as medicine and food.
The crust for the pies was made using pumpkins. Pumpkins were found to be a quick and easy remedy for snake bites. Further, the ubiquitous fruit was also used to treat freckles.
Pumpkins are thought to have originated as early as 5500 B.C. in North America. Indigenous specious of the plant are found across South, and Central America as well. Now, the humble pumpkin is grown almost in every continent with the exception of Antarctica. According to recent statistics, the United States, India, Egypt, Mexico, Ukraine and China rank as top producers of pumpkin in the world.
Origin of the Name
The word pumpkin interestingly is derived from a Greek word, ‘Pepon’, which means large melon. Later the French left their stamp on the pumpkin by changing the name slightly to “pompon.” The English wanted to have a slice of the pie themselves, so they changed the name to ‘pumpion’.American colonists had the last word, and they modified the name to the present “pumpkin”.
Types of Pumpkins
There are innumerable types of pumpkins in different colors, sizes, and shapes. There is an interesting statistic that points to the largest pumpkin in the world that weighed about 1,140 pounds.
Pumpkins have been categorized according to their size.
- Baby Boo: These are white small pumpkins and have extremely sought after seeds. They are especially in demand during Halloween to add to the sinister ambiance.
- Jack Be Little: A tiny pumpkin that can easily sit on one’s palm, named Jack be little or JBL. The demand for this variety goes up during fall and is used in decorations.
- Sweet Sugar Pie – This variety of pumpkins weigh anywhere between 5-7 pounds and are ideally suited for baking.
- Wee Be Little – A mini round pumpkin weighing about a pound is a tasty one too. It is also widely used in decorations.
- Jaradale: This pumpkin is unique as it is blue in color and weighs about 6 to 10 pounds. It is known to taste good when eaten in a mashed form. The fruit is used for decorations as well as in food recipes and baked dishes.
Medium Sized Pumpkins
- Fairy tale – This pumpkin is a pale brown color and weighs about 15 pounds. It is widely popular in France.
- Casper – White pumpkins used extensively during Halloween to give a spooky look.
- Connecticut Field –A large pumpkin weighing about 15 to 25 pounds is high on popularity. The skin is ribbed and is a striking orange color. These varieties of pumpkins grow very well almost anywhere and are widely used in decorations. Jack O’ Lanterns are made from the Connecticut field.
- Howden – These pumpkins awe onlookers by their size and are fast selling during Halloween. Bright orange, they make for easy decorations.
- Cinderella – A sought after pumpkin variety, Cinderella is a mix between red and orange color and weighs anywhere between 25 to 35 pounds. The skin looks ribbed giving it a rather different appearance.
- Harvest Jack – Large pumpkins in orange color weighing nearly 30 pounds, also double up as Jack O’ Lanterns.
- Blue Doll – An attractive pumpkin because of its rather rare color grows really huge to weigh about 30 pounds.
- Jack O’Lantern – Perfect sized pumpkins for Halloween pumpkin carving that averages 8 to 15 pounds in weight. This variety of pumpkin is bright orange in color with a ribbed skin.
- Dill’s Atlantic Giant – As the name suggests, these pumpkins are the largest in the heap and may weigh even more than 1000 pounds.
- Lumpy pumpkin – These pumpkins have lumps, weigh nearly 20 pounds are sweet to taste.
- Pumpkin on a Stick – An ornamental display of small red pumpkins on an eggplant stick. The plants look very attractive and stand out for their beauty
- Peanut – A pumpkin that looks like it has peanuts all over the skin. The bumps on the skin are beige in color.
From the time of its discovery, pumpkins have been used in soups and stews. This all-time fruit soon became a diet staple. Reportedly, pumpkins were cut into long strips and roasted on the fire after which it was eaten. Some of them dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats.
The famous pumpkin pie also has a story behind it. It is believed that the colonists cut off the top portion of the pumpkin and deseeded the bottom part. The cup was filled with spices, milk, and honey and baked to make a tasty pie.
Nutritional facts of pumpkin seeds
Beneficial calories are a great take away from pumpkin seeds. The modest seeds bring value to the table, largely attributed to its nutrient-rich composition.
The seeds can be eaten with or without their shell. Tryptophan, manganese, and magnesium are found abundantly in pumpkin seeds. Not only that, but the seeds are also endowed with protein and phosphorus.
No exaggeration that nearly 25% of the daily needs of iron and protein can be derived after eating a quarter cup of pumpkin seeds. The seeds have elevated levels of monosaturated fat and are an important anti-inflammatory agent.
A 100-gram serving of roasted, in-shell pumpkin seeds provides 536 calories. The nutritional break up is as follows:
- Calcium : 71 mg
- Sodium: 571 g
- Protein: 32.14 g o
- Fat: 42.86 g of fat( 8.93 g saturated fat)
- Carbohydrate: 4 g
- Fiber: 3.6 g
- Iron: 16.07 mg
- Sugar: 3.57 g
Ways to Eat Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are mostly eaten with their shells. They taste better when they are roasted as the shells give a crunchy taste to the seed. The most nutritive way to eat pumpkin seeds is to have them raw, to assimilate the best of the healthy fats present in the seeds.
The seeds can be toasted or roasted. The pumpkin seeds can be made flavourful by adding rock salt, pepper, chili or cumin. Honey and brown sugar combination on the roasted seeds lends a completely different flavor.
Starting the day with a handful of pumpkin seeds can set a healthy tone for the day. For those who skip eating the seeds in the morning can consume it as an in-between meal snack.
Food combinations with pumpkin seeds
- Soups and salads
The roasted pumpkin seeds can be sprinkled on soups and salads to make them taste crunchy as well as spruce up nutrition. These seeds could be tossed into a quinoa salad to make it a super healthy bowl.
- Cakes and Muffins
These crunchy seeds can be mixed in cake batter to make healthy cakes and muffins
Pumpkin seeds can be added to the morning breakfast cereal to ensure all the right nutrients for an active day
They can be eaten along with cheese to kill hunger pangs between meals. Caramelized pumpkin seeds can be a delectable snack. Pumpkin seeds can thus be made to taste sweet, salty, spicy and even tangy depending on the way it is prepared to break the monotony of similar tastes.
The seeds can be added in any dessert to give it a different taste and texture.
- Pesto and Salsa Recipes
The seeds add to the taste of pesto and salsa preparations.
- Pumpkin seed butter
A good way to serve pumpkin seeds is pumpkin seed butter. Many different combinations can experiment- an example is with cinnamon or maple flavor.
Ways to Preserve Pumpkin Seeds
- Raw pumpkin seeds need to be dry in the first place. Later they can be stored in air-tight containers. If stored in a refrigerator, they can last anywhere between 1-2 months. If stored at room temperature, it may last only for a week.
- Roasted pumpkin seeds stored at room temperature in airtight containers will last up to three months. If the same containers are refrigerated, the seeds last up to 12 months.
Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are loaded with goodies. In a nutshell, these seeds are heart protective as well as reduce the risk of certain cancers.
- Relive symptoms of BPH and overactive bladder
Victims of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) with urination problems found significant relief after consuming pumpkin seeds for a year. A study revealed that 10 gm. supplements of pumpkin extract positively impacted the quality of life of victims with an overactive bladder.
- Anti-cancer properties
Studies to understand the power of pumpkin seeds have shown that diets with pumpkin seeds resulted in reduced incidences of colon, breast, lung, stomach and prostate cancers. Other insights have also pointed to the efficacy of pumpkin seeds in lowering the risk of cancers.
- Protects against heart disease
Pumpkin seeds contain magnesium in a natural form. Magnesium is heart protective. Nitric oxide which helps keep blood vessels healthy is found in these seeds.
- Good source of antioxidants
Pumpkin seeds are vital for all round health. Most importantly, they reduce the damage caused by free radicals and reduce inflammation. Pumpkin seeds are rich in Vitamin E and carotenoids. These antioxidants found in pumpkin seeds positively impact health.
- Positive effect on digestive health
Due to the high fiber content in pumpkin seeds, they are extremely good for digestive health. Fiber-rich diets have other positive benefits too- a lowered risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
- Reduction in cholesterol and blood pressure
Pumpkin seeds contain zinc, antioxidants, magnesium and fatty acids all which assist in keeping the heart healthy. Research into the benefits of pumpkin seed consumption has shown that it can have a positive impact on cholesterol levels. It was observed to have reduced high blood pressure.
- Relief for sleep problems
Zinc, magnesium and tryptophan, the elements which help in regulating the sleep cycle are found in pumpkin seeds. Hence, they can be a remedy for sleep problems.
Adverse Effects of Pumpkin Seeds
As with all foods, pumpkin seeds need to be consumed in moderation. Consuming too many of these seeds can cause stomach discomfort due to bloating and gas. More than a handful can be eaten without the fear of side effects. Eating these seeds excessively can also cause constipation.
Do pumpkin seeds positively impact victims of diabetes?
There appears to be a link between the consumption of pumpkin seeds and a reduction in blood sugar levels. Although few insights have pointed towards the benefit of pumpkin seeds on diabetics, there is no conclusive evidence yet. A detailed study is required to establish this connection.
There is more to pumpkin seeds than what meets the eye! These tiny seeds are a nutritional powerhouse that brings on a host of health benefits. Size does not matter and pumpkin seeds have proved it beyond doubt.
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