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A pepita (from Spanish pepita de calabaza, "little seed of squash") is an edible seed of a pumpkin or other cultivar of squash (genus Cucurbita), typically rather flat and asymmetrically oval, and light green in color inside a white hull. The word can refer either to the hulled kernel or unhulled whole seed, and most commonly refers to the roasted end product. The pressed oil of the roasted seeds of a specific pumpkin variety is also used in Central and Eastern European cuisine.
They are a popular ingredient in Mexican cooking and are also roasted and served as a snack. They are often simply called pumpkin seeds in English, and (marinated and roasted) are an autumn seasonal favorite in the rural United States, as well as a commercially produced and distributed packaged snack, like sunflower seeds, available year-round. Pepitas are known by their Spanish name, and typically salted and sometimes spiced after roasting (and today also available as a packaged product), in Mexico and other Latin American countries, and the American Southwest. In these parts of the world, they have been eaten since at least the time of the Aztecs and probably much earlier, since squash was one of the three earliest plant domesticates in the Western Hemisphere, along with maize (corn) (see National Maize Day ) and common beans (collectively the Native American agricultural "Three Sisters", originating in Mexico).
As an ingredient in mole dishes, they are known in Spanish as pipian. These seeds can be found in specialty and Mexican food stores.
Nutritional value and health benefits
Pepitas are a healthy snack food choice with some studies reporting that five to ten grams daily could help prevent kidney stones. Furthermore, claims have been made that pepitas help deter parasites, such as tapeworms.
The seeds are also good sources of iron (25 grams can provide about 20 per cent of the recommended daily iron intake), zinc, polyunsaturated fatty acids (including the essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6), potassium, and magnesium.
As with all oily foods, overconsumption can contribute to weight gain.
Lightly roasted seeds provide better nutrition than dark ones, as excessive heat destroys some of their nutritive value.
Pumpkin seeds in particular
The seeds (and seed oil, see below) of pumpkins, such as Cucurbita bepo varieties and Cucurbitae semen, have been subject to a great deal of research (especially into the treatment of prostate ailments) and have been shown to be especially rich in steroidal compounds, in addition to their nutritrional value.
One gram of pumpkin seed protein contains as much L-tryptophan as a full glass of milk, making it of interest to researchers studying the treatment of anxiety disorders. Some eat the seeds as preventative measure against onset of anxiety attacks, clinical depression and other mood disorders.
Some studies have also found pumpkin seeds to prevent arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and to regulate cholesterol levels in the body.
Pumpkin seed oil
The oil of pumpkin seeds, a culinary specialty in (and important export commodity of) Central European cuisine as a salad oil and (although this destroys its essential fatty acids) a cooking oil, is also used to treat irritable bowel syndrome and various other ailments, both in folk medicine and in modern medical practice and research.
Long an Eastern European folk remedy for the prostate problems of men, the oil has in fact been shown to improve symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate due to benign prostatic hyperplasia. Components in pumpkin seed oil appear to interrupt the triggering of prostate cell multiplication by testosterone and DHT. It is questionable whether eating the seeds whole in snack quantities,rather than taking therapeutic doses of the concentrated oil, would provide any prostate benefit.
The oil is also of research interest in the treatment of Clinical depression and other disorders responsive to tryptophan at larger doses than can be practicably provided by whole seeds.
Further, pumpkin seed oil (and possibly also the seeds) may lower the risk of certain types of kidney stones.
In German folk medicine, the oil is also used to quell parasitic infestations such as tapeworms.