Carving pumpkins creates a lot of by-products. Happy kids, of course. But also cut-out chunks of pumpkin flesh, a mound of stringy pulp and a surprisingly large pile of pumpkin seeds. Those happy kids (and the resulting jack-o'-lantern) are the main point of the exercise, but don't be in a hurry to put your pumpkin seeds in the trash or green bin. Roasted pumpkin seeds are a tasty, healthy snack, and they are both quick and easy to make. So before you start this year's Halloween pumpkin-carving extravaganza, plan to roast pumpkin seeds when you're done. You'll get two kid-friendly activities for the price of one—and a kid-friendly treat as well.
The Case for Eating Pumpkin Seeds
Nuts and seeds in general are something most of us should eat more of, and pumpkin seeds are no exception. They're gluten-free, an excellent source of plant-based protein, filled with slow-digesting complex carbohydrates (which won't make your blood sugars spike) and a good source of fiber to boot. According to the USDA, they're also loaded with nutrients: Studies show that just one ounce contributes heavily to your daily requirements of vitamin K, plus a range of minerals including phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc and copper.
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The only knock against them is that they contain a relatively high percentage of fat, but it's the good kind (mostly unsaturated, with relatively little saturated fat) that's healthy for you in moderation. If you roast your own seeds at home, you'll be eating them with the shells on, which is a good news/bad news scenario. The good news is that it about triples their fiber content, according to the American Heart Association, and most of us don't get enough fiber. The bad news is that if you overdo it, you may find that you're uncomfortable for a little while as your gut adjusts to its new workload. That goes away if you stick with it, and increased fiber consumption also has significant health benefits, so overall we're going to call that a benefit.
Preparing Pumpkin Seeds for Roasting
Getting ready to roast pumpkin seeds is good, messy fun in its own right. Start by setting a large mixing bowl near your work surface. As you and the kids pull the innards out of your pumpkins (you can wear an apron and disposable gloves if getting messy isn't your idea of a good time), drop them into the bowl. It's up to you whether you remove pulp from the seeds as you go. When the pumpkin-carving fun is done, take the bowl over to your sink and fill it with room-temperature water. Now scrub the pumpkin seeds against each other vigorously, which will help the pulp and stringy bits come away from the seeds. Your kids will probably enjoy this part, so let them go wild.
The seeds will bob to the top of your bowl, and the pulp will sink to the bottom. Skim off the floating seeds into a colander, and let them drain while you agitate the pulpy mixture some more. Eventually you'll have almost all of the seeds in your colander, and almost all of the pulp in your bowl. "Almost" is good enough in this case, because a smidgen of flesh stuck to the seeds won't hurt you; in fact it adds a bit of flavor and nutrition. Dump out the seeds onto a clean kitchen towel or paper towels, and then pour the pulp down your disposal (if you don't have a disposal, pour the mixture into your colander and then discard solids in the trash or your green bin).
Blot the seeds with their towel until they're mostly dry, and you're ready to roast them, which brings us to...
How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds
Prep Time: Less than 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 to 25 minutes
Total Time: 25 to 30 minutes
You can roast your pumpkin seeds at any temperature from 250°F to 350°F—you’ll just need to make the roasting time longer or shorter as a result. The lower the temperature, the less vigilant you’ll need to be in order to keep them from getting scorched. Your choice of flavoring ingredients may also affect your cooking time: Ingredients such as brown sugar, melted butter and some spices tend to scorch easily and may require lower heat.
Things You'll Need
Cleaned, dry pumpkin seeds
Lightweight mixing bowl
Olive oil or neutral-flavored vegetable oil
Pinch of fine salt
Other seasonings to taste (optional)
Airtight container (optional)
- Preheat your oven ahead of time to 300° F. Line a sheet pan with parchment, and set it aside.
- Transfer the pumpkin seeds to a mixing bowl. Drizzle lightly with oil, and add a pinch or two of fine salt.
- Toss the seeds with the oil and salt, as well as optional seasonings if desired, until they're evenly coated.
- Arrange the seeds in a single layer on your prepared baking sheet (a bit of overlapping is fine). Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally with a heatproof spatula, until the seeds are evenly golden-brown.
- Pour the roasted seeds into a serving bowl (so the heat of the pan won't continue to cook them), and toss a few times to release any excess heat. Serve once they've cooled enough to handle. If you're preparing them ahead of time for later snacking, let them cool completely and then pack them into an airtight container.
9 Seasoning Ideas for Pumpkin Seeds
You don't need a formal pumpkin seeds recipe as such; it's just a question of taking flavor combinations you like and adding them to the bowl when you toss your seeds with the oil and salt. There are an essentially unlimited number of combinations, but here are a generous handful to get you started.
1. Brined pumpkin seeds
Like 'em salty, but want that flavoring to be even and consistent? Instead of sprinkling salt when the seeds go onto the pan, brine them in salted water. Dissolve 1/2 cup sea salt or kosher salt in a quart of warm water, and leave the cleaned seeds in the brine for 3 to 5 hours. Drain them, blot them dry, toss the dry seeds with oil and any additional seasonings you might like, then roast them as directed.
2. Southwest pumpkin seeds
Toss the seeds with chili powder, or your own custom mixture of paprika, garlic, cumin, oregano and any two or three kinds of ground chile pepper (cayenne, ancho, chipotle, hot paprika, whatever you like).
3. Curry pumpkin seeds
The easy way to do this is by adding curry powder to the bowl when you toss your seeds, but there are better options. Simply replacing the curry powder with garam masala is an instant upgrade. Adding signature Indian cooking flavors like ground turmeric, cumin and coriander, finely crushed coconut flakes or ground cardamom can also make the mixture more flavorful. Another great option is to pick up a package of "chaat masala"—a spice mixture meant for crispy snacks—from your favorite specialty-foods retailer, and sprinkle the seeds with that.
4. Garlic butter pumpkin seeds
Toss the cleaned seeds with melted butter instead of oil, and add 1 teaspoon garlic powder or garlic salt (cut back on the plain salt, if you use the latter) for every 2 to 3 cups of seeds. Stir these frequently, because garlic scorches easily and develops a harsh flavor.
5. Pumpkin-spice pumpkin seeds
"Pumpkin spice" is everywhere in the fall, so why not? Toss the seeds with a little bit of sugar and a store-bought pumpkin pie spice, or your own mixture of ginger, cinnamon and mace or nutmeg. Again, stir frequently to make sure the sugar doesn't stick and scorch.
6. “Trash mix” pumpkin seeds
If you're partial to the crunchy, cereal-based snack fondly known as "trash mix," that's all the reason you need to introduce those flavors to your pumpkin seeds. Melt some butter and stir in Worcestershire sauce, celery salt, garlic powder, paprika and onion powder in whatever proportions your favorite recipe calls for.
7. Cinnamon-maple pumpkin seeds
Another sweet option is to toss the seeds with a light drizzle of maple syrup and a sprinkling of cinnamon. If you live in a maple-producing area and have access to maple sugar, that's good too.
8. Hot-and-sweet pumpkin seeds
Spicy seeds are good, and sweet seeds are good, but when you combine them they're even better! Toss the seeds with a small amount of sugar or other sweetener, then add a few pinches of your favorite ground hot pepper (cayenne, chipotle, ancho, whatever you've got) or a splash of your favorite hot sauce.
9. Popcorn-inspired pumpkin seeds
Got a crowd who can't agree on what flavors they want? Buy several packages of popcorn seasonings, roast the seeds without any flavorings at all, and let everyone choose what flavors they want in their own bowl. Not only is this a flexible way to keep everyone happy, but you'll be able to switch up the flavors depending on your mood (and you're not committed to a single flavor profile for the entire batch).
Shelling your own pumpkin seeds at home (if you don’t like the shells or want pepitas as an ingredient for cooking with) is tedious and usually not worth the bother: You can buy them already shelled at minimal cost. If you have space for a garden, consider growing a pumpkin variety such as Lady Godiva that’s been bred for naked seeds (i.e., without shells).
The difference between pumpkins and winter squashes is pretty arbitrary: They’re all from the same few species. If you don’t carve pumpkins but do eat lots of winter squash, you can treat those seeds the same way.
Though the pumpkin seeds themselves are good for you, you’ll need to be mindful of the ingredients you season them with. People with high blood pressure might choose to go lighter on the salt, for instance, and using butter in place of oil means adding cholesterol. As with any snack, you’ll need to work around existing health issues.