Pepitas (Pumpkin Seeds)

pepitas
photo credit: gourmetsleuth

About

In Mexico, pepita verde is the green inside kernel of the pumpkin or squash seed with the hull peeled away and pepita giruesa is the whole seed with the hull. Pepita giruesa are popular in Mexico toasted, salted and eaten as a snack. Both the whole seed with hull and the pepita verde can be found toasted and flavored with chile and lime. This snack is frequently seen in Mexican markets. The pepita is also the key ingredient in "pipian," a type of mole [moh-LAY].

In the U.S., the term "pepita" refers to the green kernel inside a pumpkin seed, or, depending on the type of pumpkin, it may be a hull-less seed. Most of the pepitas produced in China (and the U.S.) today are of the hull-less variety.

Why Pepitas Are Good For You

A 1 ounce serving is about 3 1/4 tablespoons (28 grams)and packs a whopping 7 grams of protein, 5 grams of carbohydrate, and 1 gram of fiber as well as 278 mg of potassium and 16 grams of healthy fat. Further, the seeds are rich in manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc.

Keeping in mind moderation (they are high in calories), they are beneficial in both the Keto and the Paleo eating plans.

History Of Pepitas

Like most foods in the New World, every part of the pumpkin (calabaza) was used by the natives. The blossoms were fried and used in soups, the flesh cooked and eaten, and the seeds (pepitas) were eaten raw or dried and ground then used in sauces. Even the pumpkin/squash shell was dried and made into drinking vessels.  There were several varieties of calazbaza grown and were used for their flesh, and others for seed.

Old World Uses For Pepitas

The Spaniards were not interested in blossoms or the flesh of the calabaza (these they considered to be peasant food), but they became very interested in the pumpkin seeds. They realized that the hulled squash seeds could replace their beloved almonds to make marzipan, which was known as a prestigious dish in Europe. Soon the pepitas (squash seeds) were taken back to Europe, where they were eventually embraced by the Old World.

Other Old World uses for the squash seeds included making a sweet confection.  The pepitas were bound together with either honey or black agave syrup which was boiled down and thickened. Today a similar food like a praline is made buy pouring a thickened syrup over the toasted seeds.

The toasted seeds were ground and mixed into a drink called atole (atoli).  The ground seeds were also combined with black beans then wrapped in chaya leaves  to make a type of tamale.

Corn tortillas were dipped in a sauce made with toasted, ground pepitas mixed with fresh epazote.

Even a special sauce was made with ground seeds, achiote, and salt that was used with fish or venison.

Many of these sauces and preparations evolved into foods that are still eaten in Mexico today.

Peptias Production Then And Now

Today, most of the pepitas you purchase in health food stores and markets in the U.S. are grown in China from a special variety of pumpkin which produces a hull-less pepita.  The hull-less seed was first developed from the Curcubita pepo popular in Mexico.  This special cultivar was developed in Austria and named Curcubita pepo var. 'styriaca'.  These special seeds are used to produce a dark color, flavorful oil which Styria Austria is famous for.  This variety has evolved into several other cultivars that have been perfect for production of the hull-less seeds.

Mexico still produces their own whole pumpkin seeds and pepita kernels from traditional calabaza varieties.  Most of these are grown in Yucatan.  Diana Kennedy states that as of 1991 Yucatan still produced 73% of all the commercial pumpkin seeds. While they do sell some of their pepitas to Japan, you don't usually find them in the U.S.  However there are some growers in the U.S. that produce pepitas. Both of these are from the hull-less variety.  See sources below for U.S. growers.

Pepitas In Mexico Today

Squash seeds are still important in Mexico.  According to Yucatán Recipes from a Culinary Expedition written by David Sterling, the pepita plays an important nutritional and culinary roll in the local cuisine. He describes three different types of squash seeds you find in the local markets:

  • A small, pale seed, slightly brown in color known as pepita menuda or (sikil in the Mayan language). This seed comes from c. moschata squash and is most commonly used today. The whole seed, including the shell, is toasted and ground and used for making a dip and a popular filling for tamales.
  • A larger white-shell seed named pepita giruesa from C. argyrosperma, formerly c. mixta. You'll find these toasted and salted and used as a snack.
  • And pepita verde  (xtoop in Mayan), which is the kernel from the same large seed above. The large white shells are peeled away to reveal the small green kernel. These are ground and used in a traditional Pepita Marzipan. They may also be cooked into a type of praline with either sugar or honey. The most famous of all uses for this pepita is to make Papadzules.

Varieties and Uses

Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are harvested from a variety of pumpkin types and are available in several common forms.

Whole shell-on (or un-hulled) pepitas - available salted or unsalted. Can be toasted whole and salted or flavored with chile and lime. Eat as a snack.

Shelled (or hulled) pepitas - can be found raw or toasted, salted or unsalted. As a snack the seeds are usually toasted and flavored with salt, chile, and lime. Use in salads, salad dressings, or in pipian, a type of mole.

Ground pepita kernels - use in mole, cookies, breads. Although you may find ground seeds in the markets it is best to grind your own right before use.

Buy And Store

Pepitas can be found in most Mexican markets or local health food stores. If possible purchase the Mexican varieties and help support an ancient industry.

Store: As with most seeds and nuts, pepitas have a high oil content so they will go rancid quickly. Purchase in amounts you will use within a week or so. Store in a tightly sealed plastic bag. Pepitas can be placed in freezer proof bags and frozen for up to 6 months or more.

Nutrition Information For Pepitas (Pumpkin Seeds)

Serving Size
1 cup
 
Calories
747
Calories from Fat
567
 
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 63g
100%
Saturated Fat 12g
20%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 25mg
0%
Potassium
1114g
30%
Total Carbohydrate 25g
10%
Dietary Fiber 5g
20%
Sugars 1g
Protein 34g
70%
 
Vitamin A  0% Vitamin C  0%
Calcium  0% Iron  0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Simple Chile Lime Pepitas

You can find pepitas with a spicy coating of chile and lime in almost any Mexican market.  Here is a simple recipe to make at home.  Eat these as a snack, or use to top pumpkin soup or your favorite salad.

  • 1/2 cup pepitas
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil 
  • 1/8 teaspoon chile powder (chipotle or ancho are good choices)
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Heat oil in a medium size frying pan over medium high, add the pepitas and cook just until they start to pop and turn a golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the lime juice, chile powder and salt. Continue to cook until the lime juice evaporates.  Remove from the stove then transfer to a plate to cool.

Sources and Credits

Historical information

America's First Cuisines - Sophie Coe

Mexican Kitchen Techniques and Ingredients - Diana Kennedy

Yucatán Recipes from a Culinary Expedition written by David Sterling

Mexconnect: Pumpkin An Ancient Mexican Native La Calabaza

World Crops - The Calabaza

Sources For U.S. Produced Pepitas

Wholehearted Foods - Located in Geneva, New York produces pepitas, whole pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil.

Autum Seed Company - They produce both hull-less pepitas and pumpkin seeds. They are located in Oregon and produce organic and conventional products.

author

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.