Toasted pumpkin seeds, that hallmark of Halloween, are a ritual in our home just as it is in many American homes.
It’s a long tradition in my family, just as I imagine it’s a long tradition in yours as well. One of my earliest memories is that of toasting pumpkin seeds. I couldn’t have been more than five or six at the time, and we carved out the pumpkins. My mother flavored the seeds with oil, cayenne and seasoning salt and roasted them in a hot oven until their spicy, earthy scent filled our home. I ate as many toasted pumpkin seeds as I could – until my tongue burned with the heat of cayenne. They’re even better than candy corn, you know.
Of course, if you raise your child like I do mine – avoiding candy and sugary sweets where you can, perhaps you should let the Candy Fairy know she should visit your home Halloween night. She’ll whisk away all that nasty candy – the tootsie rolls and jawbreakers, the lollipops and caramels, the pixie sticks and twizzlers – leaving behind a special toy she knows your children will positively love. She visits our house a few times a year – after Valentine’s Day and Easter, and sometimes after friends’ birthday parties. Or pack up all those sweets and visit your dentist – he or she might just buy that candy at one or two dollars per pound. In our home, we steer Halloween celebrations away from candy and sweets toward costumes, spooky stories, cultural history, pumpkin carving and, of course, toasting pumpkin seeds.
Pumpkin seeds are a beautiful food – earthy in flavor and rich in nutrients, particularly trace minerals. Just a single ounce of roasted pumpkin seeds contains about a quarter of the required daily value for iron, a third for both magnesium and phosphorus and nearly 42% of the required daily value for manganese1. Pumpkin seeds are also rich in zinc and vitamin K1. Of course, without proper preparation, all those minerals do surprisingly little good. Pumpkin seeds are extraordinarily rich in phytic acid2, an antinutrient that binds minerals in the digestive tract preventing your body from fully absorbing these vital micronutrients.
Of course, proper preparation of all seeds, nuts, legumes, beans and grains including pumpkin seeds helps to mitigate the effects of these mineral-blocking antinutrients, enabling your body to better absorb the full complement of minerals contained in these wholesome, natural foods. The simple tasks of soaking (as called for in this recipe), souring or sprouting facilitates the degradation of antinutrients in cereal grains3 as well as nuts, seeds and legumes, making these foods that much better for you. The Weston A Price Foundation, a nutritional advocacy group, recommends a long period of soaking coupled with roasting to improve the nutritive value of pumpkin seeds2.
Beyond a high mineral content, pumpkin seeds offer further benefit. The seed is rich in the amino acid L-tryptophan4. Tryptophan shows some promise in the treatment of anxiety disorders, and a recent pilot study analyzed the effects of tryptophan derived from gourds, like pumpkin, and found that a treatment coupling tryptophan-rich gourd seed with carbohydrates significantly improved anxiety levels among the subjects over a period of just two weeks5. The same researchers also found that Tryptophan-rich seeds coupled with carbohydrates also reduced insomnia and waking time in the night6.