Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pumpkin Seeds, Fall's Overlooked Delicacy

How many of you have had pumpkin seeds?  I bet there's a good number of those who have, and an equally significant number of those who haven't.  Today I'm here to convince the ones who haven't to try these little delicacies while they're still "in season"

What am I talking about exactly?  I'm talking about dried, baked, and spiced pumpkin seeds, right out of that squash you like to carve faces on.  While Halloween is already past, you can definitely still pick up a good sized left-over pumpkin without too much trouble, and with all the recipes you can get out of that thing I can tell you right now it'll be worth it, big time.

Harvesting the seeds can be a pretty messy ordeal, but can be quite a fun process.  The guts of the pumpkin have a distinct aroma that's both natural and delicious at the same time, and whenever I smell it fond memories of dark spooky nights with my family immediately pop into my head.  Try to scoop all the seeds out into a bowl, and don't worry if you get some of the guts with them, as it can be pretty hard to separate.  If you've ever carved a pumpkin before you know exactly what I'm talking about.

After you scrape the inside of the pumpkin as cleanly as you can, try to remove as much orange gunk off the seeds as possible.  Then, place them in a colander and wash them off, removing the last little bits of stringy pumpkin glop with careful fingers.  You want the seeds to be clean and shiny, each one a perfect little morsel waiting to be prepared and eaten.  After the seeds are thoroughly cleaned, set them on a tea towel try to remove as much of the moisture as you can (don't use paper towels, as the seeds can stick to the paper and rip off little bits of it when you go to transfer them to the final cooking pan.  I'm guessing you don't want paper in your perfect little seeds).  It isn't crucial that you get them bone dry, but you want to at least remove visible droplets.

Now comes the fun part.  Spicing them up!  The most traditional way to cook pumpkin seeds is with salt and pepper, however I usually choose to forgo the salt and instead like to give them a little kick with cayenne chili powder.  Garlic powder tastes great as well.  Lay the dried seeds on a pan and sprinkle a nice even coat of your favorite spices over each batch of seeds, and make sure the powder is evenly distributed.  Now all that's left is to cook them!

Pop them in the oven for about 1 hour at 250 degrees, stirring them once or twice during the cooking process.  When they're ready, take them out, let them cool, bag them up into snack sized portions, and enjoy!

Not only are these seeds delicious, but they also are packed with nutrients!  They can be most closely compared to most nuts, and carry many of the same benefits:

Fiber:  Pumpkin seeds are very high in fiber, containing about 2 grams per 1 oz.  This will help promote good metabolizing of food, and will also help you digestive tract to remain healthy and regular.  Believe me, you want that.

Dense Calories:  Pumpkin seeds, like other nuts, can be easily used as a bulk up food for those looking to pack on a little muscle.  They are dense with quality calories, about 285 per cup.  And every one of those calories is packed with nutrients and protein to help you maintain lean mass.  But don't let that high calorie figure scare you, pumpkin seeds can be just as easily packed into smaller snack portions and consumed on a cutting diet as well.  They're an extremely versatile little food.

Protein:  These little guys are packed with protein!  They contain more than most other nuts, at around 12g per 1 cup, or 6g per half cup.  That's not bad, considering not many people think "protein packed" when they see those little seeds inside that big orange squash.  But I'm telling you, if you want muscle, pumpkin seeds can help.

Healthy fats:  Pumpkin seeds are loaded with healthy, unsaturated fats that will decrease your LDL (bad) cholesterol and serve to make your heart as healthy as it can be by promoting an optimal blood lipid level.  Remember, FAT IS NOT THE ENEMY.  Here it's your friend, all 12.4g of it (per cup).

Vitamins/other nutrients:  Pumpkin seeds have all sorts of other nutritional benefits as well.  They're very dense in potassium (that other crucial electrolyte) at around 600mg per cup.  They also have a wide array of vitamins nestled in each serving, such as a good dose of vitamins A, B6, B12, and K.  And they provide a whopping 50% of your daily doses of Manganese and Magnesium (yes those are different things.)  Without salt added, they are also very low in sodium.

In my opinion, pumpkin seeds are like heavenly little healthy snacks.  They're crunchy, nutritious, and have that sweet flavor of fall (probably my favorite season.)  They not only help my body perform at its best, they bring back great childhood memories.  But enough sappy stuff.  Get some of these in your diet ASAP, you won't regret it.

Spice em' up, crunch em' down, and enjoy them wholeheartedly.  Good Luck!

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