This story was originally published in October 2020.
When you scoop out the insides of a pumpkin for a jack-o’-lantern or a gourd for cooking, the pulp contains the basis of a tasty treat: the seeds. The seeds of pumpkins and other gourds are delicious when roasted, and can be used for many things around the kitchen and beyond.
The seeds from your favorite fall pumpkins as well as the litany of winter squash you may enjoy over the course of the season are all edible — and, moreover, delicious when prepared correctly.
“My instinct would tell me that you could eat the seeds from any winter squash,” said Rob Dumas, food science innovation coordinator at the University of Maine. “I don’t believe there are any that the seeds would be poisonous. The bigger the seed, the more worth your effort it would be.”
To hull or not to hull
Most pumpkin and gourd seeds have a white hull or shell around them. The seed itself, which are usually sold in stores by themselves as “pepitas,” are usually a greenish color in contrast to the parchment-colored covering.
Some people do not like the texture of the shells and the high fiber may cause digestive tract disturbance. On the flipside, according to the American Heart Association, the shells add to the seeds’ high fiber content, which has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and obesity.
“They’re not something that I would typically eat, but you certainly could,” Dumas said. “A lot of people eat a pumpkin seed similar to eating a sunflower seed, [where they] crack the nut and eat the seed.”
There are several ways to remove the shell from a pumpkin seed prior to roasting, if you prefer. You can shell them one at a time by pressing on either side of the seed until it pops open, or you can boil a large batch of them, which will encourage the shells to slough off. You can also grow varieties of pumpkins and squashes that have hull-less seed within them, such as the Kakai and Naked Bear from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and the Godiva Culinary Pumpkin from Fedco Seeds.
On roasting seeds
The process of roasting pumpkin seeds, shell or not, is basically the same. First, rinse off any remaining pulp. Then, put your seeds in a mixing bowl and drizzle with your preferred oil.
“You want to use an oil that has a reasonably high smoke point so I would prefer something like a clarified butter or a light tasting olive oil,” Dumas said.
Then, add your seasonings. The way you season the seeds before roasting is where you can let your kitchen creativity run wild. Simply using salt and pepper will make them easier to incorporate into other dishes, but if you are snacking on your seeds, a bolder flavor might be good.
Dumas said he likes to add a little bit of chili powder and cumin along with salt and pepper for a “Southwestern vibe,” but there are sweeter options as well.
“You can definitely add your pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, nutmeg — any of those kinds of aromatics will be tasty for a sweeter treat, along with a little bit of brown sugar,” he said. “You do have the risk of that burning in the oven, so you don’t want to put too much sugar. A little bit of maple syrup is a nice option though things can get a little bit sticky.”
Put your seasoned seeds on a parchment lined baking tray. Set your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are using a sugar seasoning, Dumas suggested setting the oven a little lower, around 325 degrees Fahrenheit, so you do not immediately caramelize the sugar.
Roast the seeds for 15 to 20 minutes, though the exact timing depends on the seasoning you use and the amount of seeds you have on the tray.
“If you’ve got several pumpkins worth of seeds or using a small tray and using sugar, you might be at 30 or so minutes. Let your nose be your guide. As you start to smell those toasty nutty flavors from the oven and the seeds start taking on a golden hue, be ready to take them out,” Dumas said.
Using roasted seeds around the kitchen
Dumas suggested tossing them into granola, a fall salad or a grain bowl for a little bit of texture. Pepitas can also be added to soups made from the gourds in which they originated.
“I always thought it was kind of cool to put the whole pumpkin back together in the dish,” Dumas said. “Sprinkling the top of a roasted squash or pumpkin soup with toasted pepitas is a wonderful way to eat a soup.”
If you have roasted the pepitas unshelled, you can also turn them into a pumpkin seed butter, in the vein of nut butters without the allergen concerns, or other seed butters like sunflower seed butter.
“Be aware going into it that you’re going to end up with a greenish colored butter at the end,” Dumas said. “[It has] a little bit different flavor than like roasted peanuts for sure — earthy minerality might be a good way to describe it.”
If you like that earthy flavor, you can simply add a little bit of salt to your pumpkin seed butter, or you can play with a variety of mix-ins.
“Keep up that pumpkin narrative and add a little bit of a cinnamon,” Dumas said. “If it works with the pumpkin, it will probably work with the seed butter.”
Other ways to use pumpkin seeds
There are a number of ways you can use your pumpkin seeds in addition to roasting, including making tea, art or jewelry.
Dumas said that pumpkin seeds can be used to make a fantastic wormer for backyard chickens (he said he turns to author Lisa Steele for her recipe).
“We’ve done that a number of times and the chickens seem to really enjoy it,” Dumas said. “Fibrous shells on pumpkin seeds in addition to other ingredients are doing a nice job of reducing the parasite load in those birds.”
Or, you can save your pumpkin seeds to grow next year.
“Pumpkins are a really easy one of save seeds from,” Dumas said. “In fact you often hear about people who forget about their pumpkin out on their front yard and next spring, what do you know, a pumpkin plant grows in your front yard.”
Dumas warned that pumpkins and other squashes are prone to cross-pollinating, so if you are saving seeds from gourds grown near other varieties, you may wind up with some inconsistent fruit.
“There’s a little bit of a narrative created by seed companies that it’s a terrible thing to save seeds from a hybrid because you’re going to grow a frankenmonster, but you’re really not,” Dumas said. “At worst, you get a pumpkin that doesn’t taste very good and you feed it to your animals. Or, alternatively, you might grow a squash that tastes phenomenal.”