Ten things you should know about Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkins are part of the gourd family known to science as Cucurbita which is native North and South America. Archaeologists have found evidence in Mexico that the plants were being grown and improved there as long as 10,000 years ago, much earlier than maize and beans. Their use spread throughout the Americas and Spanish explorers brought them back to Europe. They are now grown on every continent except Antarctica. The world’s biggest producers are China and India which together harvester over 10 million tons a year. 1. Pumpkins are part of the gourd family known to science as Cucurbita which is native North and South America. Archaeologists have found evidence in Mexico that the plants were being grown and improved there as long as 10,000 years ago, much earlier than maize and beans. Their use spread throughout the Americas and Spanish explorers brought them back to Europe. They are now grown on every continent except Antarctica. The world’s biggest producers are China and India which together harvester over 10 million tons a year.
There are five major varieties now grown commercially around the world. The raw seed we sell in Grape Tree is from a variety known as GWS, Grown Without Shell, which having no outer hull does not require the mechanical shelling process associated with other varieties. GWS is grown specifically for its seed which are regarded as plumper and tastier that other varieties. The rest of the pumpkin is discarded. But then the pumpkin seed is an astonishing nutritional package that contains remarkable levels of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, fibre and high quality protein.
The NHS recommends eating pumpkin seeds and not just as a healthier snack. It says that in the battle to lower cholesterol and fight heart disease we should ‘try to replace foods high in saturated fats with small amounts of foods high in unsaturated fats like pumpkin seeds.’ It also stresses the importance of seeds as a source of insoluble fibre which has a key role in the digestion of food and the absorption of nutrients and helps prevent digestive problems. The NHS website even has a recipe for a ‘grab and go’ breakfast bar with pumpkin seeds.
A serving of pumpkin seeds – around 1 ounce or 35 grams, two tablespoons or one handful. -will give you a fifth of your daily requirement for protein, over half your requirement for phosphorous, almost half of your copper and magnesium requirement, a quarter of your zinc needs and 16 per cent of your iron intake. Then there’s the fat – the seeds are especially rich in monounsaturated fats like oleic acid that helps lower ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) and increase the good cholesterol (HDL) in the blood.
Those zinc levels make pumpkin seeds an outstanding source of this important mineral. Zinc is vital in creating new cells in the body, processing food, healing wounds and contributing to eye and skin health. It is also one of the reasons that the seeds have been linked to prostate health in men. Seed extracts have been used in the treatment of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia, the non-cancerous enlargement of the gland in older men. But it is not clear that simply eating seeds has any impact on the condition. Zinc is also a source of anti-oxidants.
The Vitamin E found in pumpkin seeds that help make them a really significant source of antioxidants. This is because they contain the vitamin in five different forms, two of which have only recently been discovered. It is argued that this range may have special impact on fighting free radicals those by-products from the use of oxygen in the body which can cause tissue damage and lead to conditions like heart disease and some cancers. The seeds also contain anti-oxidants in the form of lignans the group of chemical compounds found only in plants.
Pumpkin seeds are one of the best food sources of tryptophan. This essential amino acid is biochemically converted by the body into serotonin which, as a neurotransmitter, helps relay signals from one part of the brain to another. In this way it is believed to affect mood, appetite, sexual desire and particularly sleep. For a person weighing 11 stones a one ounce portion of pumpkin seed will provide over half of their daily recommended requirement for tryptophan.
Leading foodie figures are all popping pumpkin seeds into their recipes. Raymond Blanc uses them as part of his garnish for slow cooked summer vegetables. Nigella Lawson has created a salmon, avocado and pumpkin seed salad but the true devotee is eating Guru Ella Woodward. Deliciously Ella says ‘Pumpkin seeds are such an important part of my diet. I eat them every day with almost everything! I love them sprinkled on my smoothies, mixed in my granola, added to quinoa, rice and pasta bowls and pureed into pesto. They add an awesome dose of goodness to whatever you’re eating’.
Across the Atlantic pumpkin seeds are also known as pepitas which is a Mexican Spanish word meaning little seeds of squash. They are widely used in Mexican cooking and are a popular roasted snack there. You can roast your own seeds and indeed Jamie Oliver says that the fact that so many fresh seeds are discarded every autumn when pumpkins are hollowed out for the Halloween celebrations is ‘one of the great foodie crimes’. Roasting for more than 20 minutes can critically change the important fats in the seeds and affect the Vitamin E content.
The world’s biggest pumpkin, grown by Swiss farmer Beni Meir, weighed in a 2,323lbs. That is over a ton and more than 170lbs heavier the US record holder despite the fact that the obsession with monster pumpkins in the States inspires a string of autumn festivals that attract as many as 250,000 visitors. But America does claim the Pumpkin Capital of the World – Morton, Illinois where 85 per cent of the world’s canned pumpkin is produced. It also invented pumpkin chunking in which competitors build machines to throw a pumpkin as far as possible.