Pumpkin seeds (pepita) are edible kernels of fruit pumpkin. The seeds, in-fact, are concentrated sources of many health-benefiting vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and all important essential amino acids like tryptophan and glutamate.
Pumpkin fruit is a squash-like gourd of the Cucurbitaceae family native to Mexico. Scientific name: Cucurbita pepo. In the Central Americas, hulled and gently roasted pumpkin kernels are popularly known as Pepita.
The pumpkin fruit, in general, is grown as a field vegetable crop; and its seeds, nevertheless, are used as food and to extract useful pumpkin seed oil. In fact, in some parts of central Europe (Styrian province in Austria, Slovenia and Hungary), it is cultivated as a major oil-seed crop at a commercial scale.
Generally, the pumpkin fruit is allowed to mature completely in order to obtain good-quality seeds. Each fruit contains up to 500 cream-white husky seeds located at its central hollow cavity interspersed in between net like mucilaginous fibers. The seeds are semi-flat, have a typical oval shape with a conical tip. Inside, the edible kernel has olive-green color. The kernels have sweet, creamy nutty flavor enjoyed in deserts, as a snack, in savory dishes, etc.
Health benefits of pumpkin seeds
Crunchy, delicious pumpkin seeds are high in calories, about 559 calories per 100 g. In addition; they are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and numerous health promoting antioxidants.
Their high caloric content mainly comes from protein and fats. On the positive side, the nuts are especially rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) like oleic acid (18:1) that helps lower bad LDL cholesterol and increases good HDL cholesterol in the blood. Research studies suggest that Mediterranean diet, which is liberal in monounsaturated fatty acids help to prevent coronary artery disease and strokes by favoring healthy blood lipid profile.
The seeds contain good-quality protein. 100 g seeds provide 30 g or 54% of recommended daily allowance. In addition, the seeds are an excellent source of amino acid tryptophan and glutamate. Tryptophan is converted into serotonin and niacin. Serotonin is a beneficial neuro-chemical often labeled as nature’s sleeping pill. Further, tryptophan is a precursor of B-complex vitamin, niacin (60 mg of tryptophan = 1mg niacin).
Glutamate is required in the synthesis of γ-amino butyric acid (GABA). GABA, an anti-stress neurochemical in the brain, helps reducing anxiety, nervous irritability, and other neurotic conditions.
Pumpkin seeds are a very good source of anti-oxidant vitamin E; contain about 35.10 mg of tocopherol-gamma per 100 g (about 237% of RDA). Vitamin E is a powerful lipid soluble antioxidant. It prevents tissue cells from the free radical mediated oxidant injury. Thus, it helps maintain the integrity of mucus membranes and skin by protecting from harmful oxygen-free radicals.
Pumpkin kernels are an also excellent source of B-complex group of vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) and folates. These vitamins work as co-factors for various enzymes during cellular substrate metabolism in the human body. In addition, niacin helps to reduce LDL-cholesterol levels in the blood. Along with glutamate, it enhances GABA activity inside the brain, which in turn reduces anxiety and neurosis.
Furthermore, its seeds contain very good levels of essential minerals like copper, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium. Just as in pine nuts. pumpkin seeds too are very rich in manganese (provide 4543 mg per 100 g, about 198% of daily-recommended intake). Manganese is an all-important co-factor for antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. It is therefore, consumption of pumpkin kernels helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful oxygen-free radicals.
Medicinal values of pumpkin seeds.
Research studies suggest that pumpkin seed to have DHEA (Di hydro epi-androstenedione) blocking actions. Thus, it cuts the risk of prostate and ovarian cancers.
In addition, experimental studies suggest that certain phytochemical compounds in pumpkin seed oil may have a role in prevention of diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease).
Pumpkin seeds are available in the stores all around the year. You may find whole seeds, hulled, as well as roasted seeds displayed in the grocery stores. In the Latin American world, hulled and roasted-pumpkin seeds are referred as pepita.
While buying whole seeds look for uniform sized, compact, cream-white, or light yellow color seeds that feel heavy in hand and feature good metallic sound.
Avoid thin, small sized, shriveled seeds as they yield poor-quality kernel. They should be free from cracks, mold, and spots and free of rancid smell.
Completely un-hulled seeds keep well for few months placed in cool dry place. However, hulled pumpkin kernels deteriorate soon if exposed to warm, humid conditions; therefore, should be placed in an air-seal container and stored inside the refrigerator.
Here are some serving tips:
In addition, the kernels can be salted or sweetened. In Mexico, the seeds are usually toasted and flavored with salt, lime, or chili peppers, and eaten as snacks.
Just like other nuts and seeds, they can also be used in granolas, biscuits, breads, cookies, casseroles or baked goods.
The seeds also used in salads especially sprinkled over fruit/vegetable salads.
You may add them to desserts, particularly sundaes and other confectionary.
The seeds are frequently added to enrich in meat, poultry, rice, and vegetable dishes.
Pumpkin seed oil is used in salad dressing as well as in cooking. In Austrian-Styria, the oil is mostly used to add to soups and salad dressings along with vinegar, salt and minced garlic.
Unlike tree nut’s allergy, it is rare to find true pumpkin-seeds allergy incidences. However, in known sensitive persons a few allergic symptoms may appear due to antigenic cross-reactions with some other nuts, seeds and fruits, especially of Anacardiaceae family such as mango, cashew nuts, pistachio. Persons with previous history of allergic-reactions to these seeds and nuts need to observe caution.
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