Pumpkins, in all their varieties, can be the featured ingredient in dishes both savory and sweet, or a Halloween centerpiece, or the source of a tasty and nutritious snack. Easy to collect and roast, pumpkin seeds are abundant in the gourd-like fruits, whether large or small.
Native to North America, pumpkins trace their roots to Mexico, harvested as a food source for thousands of years. American Indians cultivated pumpkins, using the flesh, blossoms and seeds in numerous ways -- fried, roasted, boiled, dried, and ground into flour. Later, European explorers and colonists found new ways to take advantage of the versatile fruit, as containers, animal feed, and to make beer. Pumpkins are now grown not only in North America, but India and China, and their seeds feature in many cultures' cuisines, as well as being a popular snack. Most fresh pumpkins today, though, are sold as Halloween jack-o-lanterns.
Related to squash, cucumbers, and muskmelons (cantaloupes, honey dew, and other like melons), pumpkins are botanically classified as a fruit, not a vegetable. Growers group pumpkins and their close cousins, squash, into four main categories: pepo, maxima, mixta, and moschata. Dark and bright orange Pepos rank as most recognizable because they're the traditional choice for jack-o-lantern and pie baking pumpkins.
There's no surefire way to determine exactly how many seeds pumpkins contain without counting them by hand. Pumpkins generally contain between 100 and 700 seeds but the largest pumpkins don't necessarily contain the greatest number of seeds. One way to get an estimate of the number of seeds in pepo-type pumpkins is to multiple the number of fruiting sections on the pumpkin by 16, although the resulting figure is only a rough estimation of the actual seed count. This method isn't reliable for other types of pumpkins.
How many seeds are packed in a pumpkin might be tricky to calculate, but nutritionally, pumpkin seeds are worth the work it takes to get them out of the heart of the fruit. Also called pepitas, pumpkins seeds are a good source of protein, magnesium, manganese, iron, and other minerals, and heart-healthy essential fatty acids. Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of phytosterols, substances in plants that may reduce cholesterol, enhance the immune system, and fight certain types of cancers. Pumpkin flesh is also nutritionally rich, providing fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium, and the anti-oxidant, beta-carotene.
To simply prepare pumpkin seeds, first scrape the seeds out of the center of a raw pumpkin. Wash off any attached flesh or fibers. Dry the seeds on paper toweling. Spread the seeds on a baking sheet and sprinkle them with olive or vegetable oil then lightly salt them. Roast the seeds at 250 F (120 C) for 1 hour. Store roasted pumpkin seeds in a tightly sealed container, away from direct light. Enjoy the roasted seeds as a snack, or use them in salads or baked goods.
Pumpkin seeds don't contain significant amounts of compounds known to trigger allergies.