Defining Pepitas

Bowl of pepitas

Westend61/Getty Images

Pepita is the Spanish culinary term for pumpkin seed. Pumpkin seeds are commonly used in Mexican cuisine and are a popular snack in the United States. Pepitas can be prepared in a variety of ways and can be an excellent addition to a wide range of dishes. Besides being delicious, pepitas also offer a great nutritional punch.

Pepitas can be found suspended in the soft, stringy fibers that fill the center of pumpkins, or Cucurbita, the Latin name for a genus of gourd or squash. The pepitas can be easily scooped from the center of the pumpkin and rinsed under cool water to help separate them from the stringy flesh. Briefly drying pepitas can also be helpful when attempting to remove the pumpkin fibers.

Whole vs. Hulled Pepitas

When first removed from the pumpkin, pepitas have a thick, white hull or shell. The shell is edible and offers a great deal of texture and fiber. Whole pepitas (with the hull intact) are usually roasted before consumption. While a simple dash of salt is more than enough to flavor whole roasted pepitas, they can also be brined or seasoned with a variety of herbs and spices to provide more flavor.

When a pepita is hulled, the hard, white outer shell is removed to reveal a tender, green seed. A hulled pepita has a smooth surface and a texture similar to that of a sunflower seed. The flavor is light and nutty, making it perfect for everything from sweet granolas to savory salads.

Pepita Nutrition

Pepitas are high in fiber, iron, and minerals such as zinc and magnesium. Like most seeds, pepitas contain a high level of fat, most of which is considered heart-healthy. One-quarter cup of raw, hulled pepitas provides approximately 180 calories, 14 grams of fat (3.5 grams saturated fat), 4 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, and 15 percent of the recommended daily value of iron.

Whole pepitas are usually roasted and may have salt or extra oil added during the roasting process. It is important to check the ingredients and nutrition label to determine the sodium and fat content of store-bought roasted pepitas, as the nutrition content may vary from brand to brand.

How to Eat Pepitas

While whole pepitas are generally only eaten roasted and as a snack, the softer, nuttier center of the pepita can be used in a variety of ways. Because of their mild flavor and high oil content, pepitas are a great substitution for pine nuts in pesto.

Pepitas add flavor, fiber, and nutrients to breakfast cereals, granolas, trail mixes, and even smoothies. Pepitas can be worked into whole-grain bread doughs for extra flavor and texture, or even used in place of peanuts in desserts or candy, like brittle. Pepitas are also excellent to keep on hand to sprinkle over salads, rice pilafs, or any dish that could use an extra nutritional boost.

Next time you clean out a pumpkin, before you toss the insides into the trash, consider some of the many ways you could enjoy these versatile, tasty, and nutritional autumn treats.