How to Grow Pepitas

Grow Styrian pumpkins for pepitas—hullless pumpkin seeds—and harness the benefits of pumpkin seeds.

| November/December 2015

When I was young, I loved nibbling on the salted, roasted seeds from a freshly carved jack-o’-lantern. Sometimes I would eat them like sunflower seeds, cracking open the hard hull with my teeth and spitting it out to get at the tender morsel inside. Or I would just eat the seeds whole.

Years later, I discovered pumpkin kernels in a health food store, already hulled and ready for snacking. Sometimes called “pepitas,” these tasty, tender seeds are delicious simply eaten raw and unseasoned, and can also be added to salads or granola, and used in pesto.

Pumpkin seeds contain healthy levels of magnesium, zinc, tocopherol (a precursor to vitamin E), and essential fatty acids. Cold-pressed pumpkin seed oil contains higher levels of antioxidants than walnut, hemp, sunflower or extra-virgin olive oil. The nutritious seeds are also used to treat prostate problems.

To produce hull-less pepitas, you can either grow pumpkins and hull the seeds – a very complicated and labor-intensive method, unless you have a commercial dehuller – or a much simpler way is to grow pumpkins that have hull-less, or “naked,” seeds.

The hull shebang

More than 200 years ago, a multigenerational mutation took place in a pumpkin patch in Styria, a region of Austria. The unusual pumpkins had seeds without hulls. Since then, generation after generation of Styrian farmers have saved the seed from the pumpkins with the thinnest hulls, largest seeds and greatest quantity of seeds. The result was that Styrian pumpkins now have large cavities filled with hull-less green seeds containing between 40 and 50 percent oil. A crop can produce up to 1,000 pounds of dry seeds per acre.

Traditional Styrian pumpkins are large plants with vines extending as far as 10 feet. The pumpkins weigh an average of 13 pounds. They have green and yellow or white stripes but turn orange as they mature.

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