Thursday, November 8, 2012

Winter Squash Seeds

~ Jessica S. Herwick
The term squash comes from the centuries old Narragansett Indian word ‘askutasquash’.  The literal translation in English means ‘a green thing eaten raw’ and was probably used to describe a number of vegetables from the garden.  English speaking settlers shortened the term to squash and applied it to the four species of the Cucurbita family of plants that we know today in America as our summer and winter squash (C. maxima, C. mixta, C. moschata and C. pepo).  Summer squash are harvested when the fruit is young and the seeds are still small, soft, and easy to eat raw.  Winter squash are harvested later in the fruits maturity.  Their skin is much tougher, seeds larger (and thusly packed with more vitamins and minerals), and have a much longer shelf life.  Now that the season of the summer squash has long gone, we have ushered in the arrival of Autumn, and with it, the delicious season of the winter squash.  

Winter squash appear in a variety of shapes and forms throughout the holiday season at all sorts of delicious feasts and classy dinner parties.   They are the last things to harvest and seasonally, so it would make sense that winter squashes possess nutritional values that are useful for your body to aid in sustaining the winter months.  The seeds are usually the first thing discarded when you’re preparing to roast your acorn squash, but the seeds have as much value as the rest of the fruit!

Winter squash seeds might be one of the most underrated healthy snacks available to us (and so easy to make!).  You’ve seen pumpkin seeds roasted, packaged, and sold for snacking… second only to sunflower seeds. And why not?  They’re delicious, especially this time of the year when pumpkins are being harvested, decorated, baked into pies, and placed on doorsteps and center pieces all over the nation.  Pumpkin is certainly worth celebrating, but did you know that squash pumpkins are not the only winter squash with seeds worth toasting in the oven? 

Any winter squash seeds can be toasted, seasoned, and stored as a nutritious snack or for adding to baked goods or salads.  I recommend acorn, butternut and spaghetti squash seeds, but any type of winter squash seed will cook nicely, hold your seasonings, and provide similar nutrition benefits.  You can harvest a variety of seeds at once, mix them and roast them together for an interesting color and shape combination.  You can also keep them separate, if you have a sensitive palate and like to taste for the subtle, distinct flavors of each seed. 

Health Benefits
Just like the pumpkin seed, all winter squash seeds have the same nutritional values and can be roasted, toasted or candied using the same recipe and method.  Although the vitamin and mineral percentages vary slightly (depending on the maturity and size of the seed, and the type of winter squash seed) you will find the following health benefits present in all winter squash seeds:

One Quarter Cup of Winter Squash Seeds Contain
   ~  Roughly 4 grams of Fiber
3 grams of Plant-Based Protein
   ~  Varying levels of vitamins A and C and B9 (also known as Folate)
 ~  Varying levels of minerals: Potassium, Calcium and Iron
    ~ Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats


      Cut open the winter squash (pumpkin, acorn, or other) by cutting a hole around the top of the squash, like you are cutting a jack-O-lantern top.  

      Remove the top. Pull off any string and seed that stick to the top.  As you remove seeds, place them back in the squash.  Set large strings or pieces of the squash meat aside.
     The easiest way to remove the seeds is to place the pumpkin or squash in a colander and place in sink.  

     Run water gently from the faucet into the squash.  Fill ¾ with water and then put your hand in to swirl the seeds free. You will see them float up to the surface of the water. 

     Continue filling the squash, swirling your hand against the edges of the insides to free seeds and skim them into the collider.  If you let the water overflow very gently    

Rinse the seeds well. This may take several minutes. 

Use your fingers to clean off any squash meat or strings that might stick to the seeds.  

Continue to rinse until water runs clear and there is no evidence of squash on the seeds.

In a small saucepan, mix the seeds with water by combining 2 cups of water with every half-cup seeds.  

Add a half-tablespoon of salt for every cup of water (more if you like your seeds saltier). 
NOTE: If you are using sweet flavors to season seeds, replace the salt with sugar or honey during the boiling process.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain seeds in a colander until mostly dry. 

Air-dry seeds for 5 to 10 minutes in a single layer on a paper towel, until most of the moisture has evaporated off of the seeds.  They might feel a little sticky.  That’s okay.  But if they are slimy and slip out of your hands, they are not dry enough.

Winter squash seeds draining after boiling process. 
Fresh, clean seeds ready for the boiling water process.


Preheat oven to 400°F. Move your baking rack to the top rung.
Spread about a tablespoon of olive oil over the bottom of a roasting pan or cookie sheet. Spread the seeds out over the roasting pan in one, single layer.

NOTE: If you are using spices or seasonings, toss the seeds in the seasoning with light olive oil or egg whites, drain in colander, then place in roasting pan and sprinkle lightly with more seasoning.  Then continue to the next step.

Bake on the top rack until the seeds begin to brown, 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of the seeds. (Smaller pumpkin seeds could toast more quickly.) When browned to your satisfaction, remove from the oven and lightly salt.  Let the pan cool on a rack and allow the seeds cool all the way down before eating or storing.
If storing seeds, use freezer bag or air-tight container. 

Prepare seeds as noted, in a salt or sugar water boiling bath.
Place a shallow layer of unflavored oil in the skillet (instead of the roasting pan).  Season seeds according to recipe and place in skillet, then heat for five to seven minutes, or until the seeds are light golden brown and slightly puffy.
Stir or toss often, as the seeds will scorch quickly and you want to brown all sides.
Once seeds are toasted to your preference, remove from heat and cool seeds by removing them from the skillet and placing them on a plate lined with paper towel (to soak up the excess oil).  You may want to taste one and add additional seasoning, salt or pepper.  Allow to cool completely before storing in an air tight container.


The Short Version: 
Quick and Simple Candy Coated Seeds
½ cup of squash seeds
2 tbs. water
2 tbs. sugar
Combine ½ cup seeds, sugar and water to a small saucepan. Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to a boil on medium heat.  Once you reach the boiling point, immediately reduce heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes. Continue to stir the seeds into the mixture.  The sugar mixture will begin to reduce to a stickier, thicker consistency.  You are looking for a golden color and a thickness that allows the sauce to stick to the seeds and coat it evenly.

If the syrup is looking too runny, continue to simmer until the sauce is reduced to a thicker consistency. All the seeds should be coated and the syrup should be mostly gone when the sauce has reached the candying point.  Once seeds are fully coated, use a strainer to remove any excess candy coating (be gently because you don’t want to disturb the coating on the seeds).   Lay seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper to dry.  This should take 30 to 60 minutes.

If you remove the seeds to dry and the candy coating is still sticky after 30 minutes, place the whole tray directly into the unheated oven for an hour.  This will pull some of the moisture from the candy coating and make the surface harder and crunchier. Make sure to let them dry on parchment paper in a single layer. If you find these are not crunchy enough for you, pop them in your unheated oven for an hour to crisp them up a little more.

The Long Version: Fancy Candied Seeds
3 cups winter squash seeds
2 tablespoons butter, softened, divided
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Place squash seeds in a shallow baking pan in a 250° oven for 10 minutes or until warmed. Grease a 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan with 1 tablespoon butter; set aside.

Grease the sides of a large heavy saucepan with remaining butter; add sugar, water, salt and cinnamon. Cook and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to medium and stir (at medium heat) until mixture comes to a rolling boil. Do not rush the boiling process by turning the heat up! Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 2 minutes at a simmer to dissolve sugar crystals.

Remove cover and continue to simmer, without stirring, until a candy thermometer reads 236° (soft-ball stage). Remove from the heat; add vanilla. Stir in squash seeds and toss in candy sauce until evenly coated.  Use colander to drain excess candy sauce from the seeds.  Spread onto prepared baking pan. Bake at 250° for 10 to 20 minutes, shaking the seeds on in the pan every 5 to 7 minutes until candy coating becomes crispy. Remove from oven and spread on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet to cool. 

Try some of these recipes for tasty treats that are still pretty good for you!

Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper
1 egg white
1 ½ teaspoon Sea Salt or Table Salt
1 ½ teaspoons Cracked Pepper or Ground Table Pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup winter squash seeds
Preheat oven to 375. In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the egg white, salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Add the seeds and toss well. Drain off any excess egg white (using a strainer) and place seeds in a single layer across a baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes or until seeds are golden. Sprinkle with a bit more sugar and cayenne pepper when they come out of the oven. Taste and season further if needed.

Sweet & Spicy Seeds
1 egg white
1/4 cup natural cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grained sea salt
1 cup fresh pumpkin seeds
Preheat oven to 375. In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the egg white, sugar, cayenne and salt. Add the pumpkin seeds and toss well. Drain off any excess egg white (using a strainer) and place seeds in a single layer across a baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes or until seeds are golden. Sprinkle with a bit more sugar and cayenne pepper when they come out of the oven. Taste and season further if needed.

Curried Seeds
1 egg white
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon fine grained sea salt
1 cup fresh winter squash seeds
Preheat oven to 375.
In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the egg white, curry powder and salt. Add the pumpkin seeds and toss well. Drain off any excess egg white (using a strainer) and place seeds in a single layer across a baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes or until seeds are golden. Sprinkle with a bit more curry powder when they come out of the oven. Taste and season with more salt if needed.
NOTE:  You can replace the curry powder with any dried, powdered herb!  Experiment!  Try trading the curry for cinnamon and the salt for sugar.  Perfect for the sweet tooth.

Tea & Butter Seeds
You can use many different types of tea here. Choose a tea that is fragrant and has a pronounced flavor for best results.  I prefer Earl Grey tea because I like the flavor of the bergamot.  I’ve most recently been experimenting with Celestial Seasonings Sweet Coconut Thai Decaffeinated Red Tea and sweet cream butter.  Yummy.
1 teaspoon earl grey tea
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon fine grained sea salt
1 cup fresh winter squash seeds
Preheat oven to 375. Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, grind the tea into a fine powder. Set aside.  In a medium-sized bowl combine the butter and salt. Add the pumpkin seeds and toss well. Place seeds in a single layer across a baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes or until seeds are golden. Sprinkle with the ground tea. Taste and season with more salt if needed.

Rosemary Roasted Seeds
2 cups of winter squash seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Place all of the ingredients on a large sheet pan and gently stir until the seeds have a even coating of oil and herbs.  Place in oven and roast for about five minutes. Stir, then roast a few more minutes until the seeds are just starting to brown. Remove from the oven, cool, and enjoy!

Honey Roasted Seeds
(Not recommended to toast on skillet! Use roasting method for this recipe)
2 cups prepared winter squash seeds
3 tablespoons honey (warmed) or 3 tablespoons agave nectar (warmed)
2 tablespoons any unflavored oil (sunflower, safflower, corn, etc.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
PREHEAT oven to 325ยบ.  In a mixing bowl combine all the ingredients and stir well to coat the seeds. Warm honey ahead of time to ensure it mixes easily. Arrange the seeds in a single layer (as best you can, this is sticky stuff) on a large parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes, stirring often, or until seeds are golden and the honey coating is slightly hardened.   Keep a careful eye on the seeds during the baking process. They burn quickly and easily. Remove from oven and cool completely.
Once cooled and dried, seeds will stick together like candy brittle. Break apart before transfering to an airtight container for storage.


Winter Squash Seed Pesto
Try replacing pine nuts with flavor rich roasted squash seeds in your next batch of pesto.  Most people with nut allergies are NOT allergic to squash seeds, so it’s a fabulous replacement to get that nutty flavor without the allergic reaction.   And you’ve gotta admit, one cup of toasted squash seeds are much less expensive than the pouches of pine nuts at the grocers!

Add your seeds to...
Breads or other baked goods!  Prepare your already toasted or roasted seeds as you would a nut.  If you try the candied seed, honey roasted seed or cinnamon/sugar recipes, these are delicious in cookies, cakes, to top pies, or to add to chocolate bark.

Oatmeal or cereal!  Honey roasted winter squash seeds are a delicious addition to your morning breakfast.  They add an additional nutritional punch to your morning routine as well!

Salads!  Sweet or salty seeds can be a welcome change to your afternoon salad at work, and can add flavor, thus reducing your reliance on dressing!

Trail Mix!  Give your standard trail mix a surprising kick by adding a cup of roasted, seasoned winter squash seeds to the bag. 

Humus! Finely chop your roasted/toasted seeds and add to the food processor in your favorite humus recipe.  Treat this addition like a pine nut. 

Read More About It…
Webpage that will give you the full details for Squash Seed Nutritional Values.

For More information on Pumpkin Seeds, see the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension.  This is a printable worksheet that has lots of straightforward information including the various ways to preserve pumpkin seeds.

What to do with the meat of the squash once you’ve removed and snacked on those seeds?  Check out this website for the basics on how to cook winter squashes in a variety of ways, from Kentucky Cooperative Extension.

1 comment:

  1. Good day! In your blog post did you base on any extra studies or these are solely your personal reflections? Thanks a lot in advance for your answer.