Are you a fan of pepitas, those tasty little pumpkin seeds sold in the health food stores? Have you ever wondered why the “pumpkin seeds” they sell in the store look so different from home grown pumpkin seeds? This post will show you how to get the best tasting, freshest pepitas you've ever eaten – ones that you grow yourself. If you want to grow pepitas at home, it all starts with right pumpkin.
File this under “I wish someone would have told me this when I first started gardening”. My mom always raised an assortment of winter squash, as I do, and once in a while we'd save the seeds and toast them. Frankly, I was never a huge fan – way too much roughage – until I discovered – HULLESS PUMPKIN SEEDS!
What's a pepita (hulless pumpkin seed)?
Pepitas or hulless pumpkin seeds come from winter (long season) cucurbits (Cucurbita pepo L. group Pepo, Cucurbitaceae) with seeds that lack a tough outer hull. They are also known as oil seed pumpkins or Styrian pumpkins. These are the pepitas you find in the store (they don't have a magic hulling process). Instead of the hard white seed coating we see in standard “Halloween pumpkins”, these pumpkins have a very delicate skin on the seed that comes off easily. (Note: These may be a great niche market for small scale organic producers. Check out this article “Oil Pumpkins: Niche for Organic Producers” for more information.)
Pepitas are loaded with nutrition. Just 1/4 cup (32.25 grams) provides significant amounts of manganese, tryptophan, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, protein, zinc and iron. The World's Healthiest Foods sites studies that suggest pumpkin seeds may promote prostate health, protect your bones, act as an anti-inflammatory and lower cholesterol.
How can I grow pepitas at home?
There are several varieties of pumpkins that have hulless seeds. They include:
Other varieties are also available – look for the words “hulless”, “naked seed”, “oil seed” or “Styrian” in the description.
Cultivate as you would any other winter squash. They may be direct seeded in rich soil in long season areas. Here in the upper Midwest, I typically start them inside in 2-3 inch pots, two to three weeks before planting out in the garden. Do not plant out until all danger of frost is past, unless you give the plants protection. Try not to disturb the roots too much when transplanting, as rough handling will set the plants back. I like to keep the transplants small to avoid them becoming rootbound, which increases the risk of injury.
If you'd like amazing detailed pumpkin growing instructions, visit The Pumpkin Nook. Harvest in fall before hard frost (too much cold will damage the pumpkins).
For best storage life, wipe off any loose dirt and cure at warm temperatures for about a week (I cure them in my greenhouse) before moving into cool dry storage (50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, 60 to 75 percent relative humidity). Stored like this my pumpkins have lasted into March and April the following spring, so I have months of fresh pumpkin seeds on hand.
How do I prepare pepitas?
You can either roast or dehydrate your seeds to enhance their munchability. Either way, you first need to hack open the pumpkin and dig out the seedy goodness. Rinse off any fleshy pumpkin goobers. To increase digestibility (via Nourishing Traditions), soak in salted water at least seven hours or overnight. Drain and pat dry.
Note: You can also use these techniques to improve the flavor of raw commercial pepitas, which tend to be rather bland.
To Roast Pepitas
At this point you may either roast at low heat (under 150°F to preserve maximum nutrient value, no warmer than 250°F) or dehydrate. To oven roast, drizzle lightly with olive oil or sesame oil and toss with seasonings or additional salt, if desired. Toast until crispy, mixing every 15 minutes to half hour. At 250°F it'll take around 45 minutes to an hour to get them crispy, at 150°F it'll take 8 to 12 hours. These should keep for a week or two in a tightly sealed container.
To Dehydrate Pepitas
To dehydrate, toss seeds with a bit more salt or seasoning, if desired, and dry at less than 150°F until crispy, 8-12 hours. (Don't add extra oil.) Mix every hour or so. Once dry and crispy, store in a tightly sealed container. (Wide mouth mason jars work great.) The seeds at the top of the post were dehydrated with no extra salt.
Warning – These pepitas may be addictive! Personally, I have a hard keeping them in storage once they're prepared, as they are so tasty! Like most things you grow at home, they seem to me to be just a little fresher and brighter in flavor than their store bought counterparts. You can get quite a few fruits from a hill of pumpkins, but each pumpkin will yield less than a cup of seeds, which is why pepitas are so pricey in the store.
The only down side with the oil seed pumpkins is that the flesh isn't particularly tasty. It tends to be stringy and bland. For most pumpkin recipes, I prefer to use winter squash, as the flesh is denser, smoother and sweeter. If you want to use the flesh, I suggest using it similarly to large zucchini, as a filler rather than a primary flavor. Chickens love it, too. 😉
If you've enjoyed this post, please share the pepita love. 😉
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Originally published in 2012, updated in 2016.