How To Cook With Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are a byproduct from more than two billion pumpkins produced every year in the United States, according to the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. In 2020, the average per capita consumption of pumpkin products (including pumpkin puree, blossoms, and our personal favorite — pumpkin seeds) is estimated to be around 6.44 pounds annually. Many consumers often confuse pumpkin seeds and pepitas. Although these two ingredients are used almost interchangeably in recipes, pepitas are naturally shell-free and come from a specific type of oilseed pumpkin. 

Although you might be tempted to discard your pumpkin seeds when you hollow out a Jack-o-Lantern this fall, these little nutritional powerhouses are actually very versatile in the kitchen. According to BBC Good Food, pumpkin seeds are low in saturated fats and full of antioxidants that help reduce the amount of free radicals in the body. One 30-gram serving of pumpkin seeds is 170 calories, with 7 grams of protein. 

Here are our favorite ways to use up those pumpkin seeds at the end of the season. While you can purchase pepitas from the grocery store to use, you can also clean and dry pumpkin seeds from the discards of your hollowed pumpkins. Most of the uses listed here require you to remove the protective (yet edible) shell from the pumpkin seed. This can be easily done by placing the seeds between wax paper and pounding with a mallet to gently crack the shell. Or, boil the seeds until the casing comes off. 

Use as a tofu substitute

For folks with soy allergies, finding a suitable alternative to the popular plant-based tofu can be difficult. Foodies Vegan came up with the idea to manufacture a tofu-like food product made from pumpkin seeds: pumfu! Pumfu comes in several flavors including original, sausage crumble, and chorizo crumble. Each package comes pre-pressed, so there isn't any need to squeeze out water or purchase a tofu press. 

Pumfu can be crafted into almost all the same recipes as tofu. Toss the cubed pieces in your favorite stir fry sauce for a simple, soy-free dinner, or pop it in the air-fryer for a plant-based take on chicken nuggets. 

Bake homemade granola

Granola is the perfect crunchy topping for Greek yogurt or a rice cake — so why not make it even better with the addition of a salty, fatty serving of pumpkin seeds? Most granola recipes will recommend using shelled pumpkin seeds. This will provide a crunchy texture that contrasts the sweetness of honey and the softness of walnuts or pecans. Granola is customizable to your favorite recipe and desired crispiness; add more honey or maple syrup for a sweeter granola, or bake longer for a crunchier granola. For a boost of pumpkin flavor, sprinkle the granola with a liberal layer of pumpkin spice seasoning, cinnamon, and nutmeg. 

Make candy brittle

Forget what you knew about crunchy candy! Adding crispy pumpkin seeds to a homemade candy adds a new layer of crunch and savory taste. We recommend making a spicy pumpkin seed brittle with homemade caramel and sprinkling in raw, shelled pumpkin seeds with a bit of cayenne pepper and sea salt. After the caramel has cooked, spread a thin layer onto an oiled, lined baking sheet. The brittle will take about an hour to harden before you can break it into bite-sized pieces. These treats can be stored for up to a week in an airtight container, and are perfect for a late night snack or autumn-inspired gift. 

Craft creative dips

Mike Isabella's Aztec pumpkin-seed dip is inspired by the flavors of the past with ingredients of the present. This dip combines cooked jalapeño peppers, shallots, and garlic with roasted salted pumpkin seeds. You'll also find freshness from chopped parsley, cilantro, and fresh-squeezed lime juice. 

We love that this dip is super easy to make with a food processor and comes together in less than ten minutes. It can be served with pita chips or tortilla chips, and you can store it in an air-tight container in your refrigerator for a few days. If you're not a fan of eating as a dip, spread the mixture on a sandwich or include some as a hummus substitute in a salad. 

Roast for snacking

Roasted seeds are versatile because the seasoning and spices are ultimately up to you. If you plan on making roasted pumpkin seeds at home, you'll first want to clean your fresh pumpkin seeds to remove any pumpkin guts or residue. Dry with a kitchen towel thoroughly before roasting. 

Coconut oil provides an even crisp to the pumpkin seeds and helps the seasoning stick. For a sweet pumpkin seed, toss with maple syrup, pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon. If you want to go the savory route, you can't go wrong with a mix of garlic, salt, and olive oil, according to recipe developer Miriam Hahn. To avoid burning your pumpkin seeds, toss the seeds gently every 15 minutes of the 45 minute baking time. The seeds will be ready for snacking once each is crisp to the touch and fragrant.

Top your favorite salad

The perfect salad always needs a crunchy kick. Roasted pumpkin seeds are a common addition to salads because of the salty and savory bite each seed provides. We've found that pumpkin seeds pair well with autumnal salad ingredients like squash and beans, as well as Mediterranean ingredients like avocados, chickpeas, and cracked barley. 

For your next gathering, we recommend making a shaved root vegetable salad with thinly sliced pickled golden beets, kohlrabi, radishes, mint, crumbled ricotta salata, and pumpkin seeds. This salad is dressed with a light homemade apple butter vinaigrette. Our favorite part about this salad is how the fresh root vegetable flavors contrast the saltiness and crunchiness of the pumpkin seeds, as well as the acidic kick from the vinaigrette. 

Bake into a quick bread

Pumpkin seeds can provide a delicate contrast to the sweet chewiness of a banana bread, pumpkin bread, or apple bread. We recommend adding pumpkin seeds to the top of the batter before it bakes rather than stirring seeds into the batter itself. If the pumpkin seeds are heavier than the surrounding batter, the seeds will sink to the bottom of the bread rather than floating in the middle. 

Pumpkin seeds pair well with most flavors and ingredients. We recommend combining the flavors of dried fruits like raisins, dried apricots, and dried cranberries with the formative crunch of pumpkin seeds. You can also add a bit of sweetness to your quick bread by adding chocolate or a streusel topping — both of which are compatible with pumpkin seeds. 

Blend into hummus

Hummus is the perfect companion for chips, so why not make it even better by blending in pumpkin seeds? Mixing raw pumpkin seeds into your next homemade hummus recipe is a simple way to add a nutty flavor without disrupting the creamy texture. We recommend pulsing the pumpkin seeds first to help make a creamier hummus texture. Season the hummus with your favorite spices and flavorings. Roasted garlic, freshly chopped dill, lemon juice, and a drizzle of your favorite extra virgin olive oil can elevate your hummus and better suit it to its desired use as a sandwich spread, dip, or salad topper. 

Make your own cookies

Seeds can provide a crunchy texture and nutty flavor to your favorite cookie. Pumpkin seeds are delicious additions to a variety of cookie flavors and provide a complement to dark chocolate, peanuts, and spices like cinnamon. For a more pronounced nutty undertone, we recommend roasting pumpkin seeds before stirring them into your cookie batter. 

If you plan to make cookies ahead of time, you can freeze the batter in individual balls for day-of baking. 

Most cookies will keep fresh in an airtight container for two to three days — but we think these pumpkin seed cookies will easily be gone by then. 

Make your own dairy-free milk

Dairy-free cashew-pepita milk is easy to make at home with a few simple ingredients. You'll want to soak raw cashews and raw shelled pumpkin seeds overnight; this will soften the nuts and seeds and make the ingredients easier to blend. After straining, pulse the mixture with agave, water, and salt until smooth. Afterward, strain the mixture to remove clumps and enjoy the milk however you choose. Make a vegan latte with your favorite espresso or combine your dairy-free milk creation with dairy-free ice cream for a vegan milkshake. You can also add cocoa to make a chocolate cashew-pepita milk. 

Sprinkle on breakfast oats or porridge

Pumpkin seeds can be a crunchy addition to your favorite oatmeal, chia pudding, or simple porridge recipe. We recommend combining the savory flavor of pumpkin with the sweetness of frozen blueberries, sliced apples, or raspberries. You can also aim for a rich topping by drizzling your favorite nut butter, chocolate chips, and roasted salted pepitas on top of your breakfast creation. 

If you're planning on making overnight oats, it's best to add toppings right before you plan to eat the pudding. Not only will this prevent spoilage, but it will result in a fresher texture and brighter taste in the finished product. 

Blend into a salad dressing

Pumpkin seeds can provide a fatty complex to your favorite homemade salad dressing. Although you'll ideally want to soak your pumpkin seeds overnight to make the seeds easier to blend, it is not a necessary step. Combine the seeds in a high-powered blender with your favorite herbs (we recommend cilantro or parsley), acid, water, and oil. Blend until incorporated; you won't want any chunks left in the finished dressing. We also recommend slowly adding water to the dressing for the perfect texture. Add more water to thin out the dressing if needed, or less water if you're looking for more of a sandwich spread consistency. 

Add to a trail mix

The perfect trail mix provides a boost of fat, protein, and flavor. We love adding pumpkin seeds to trail mix because of the satisfying crunch, as well as the complementary flavors to other nuts and sweet ingredients. 

The best part about making your own mix at home is the ability to customize ingredients and seasonings. Our trail mix recipe uses crystallized ginger for an unexpected sweet flavor, along with the Mediterranean flavors of pistachios and walnuts. If you're looking for a sweet seasoning for your trail mix, try tossing your pumpkin seeds with cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice and adding raisins and dried cherries to your trail mix. If you're after a more savory profile, add Indian-inspired cardamon and turmeric. 

Blend into a smoothie

Smoothies are a bright, fresh way to get in your fruits and veggies. Why not bolster your next smoothie with a little help from pumpkin seeds? Like other creamy applications for pumpkin seeds, you'll want to be sure to soak the seeds the night before so that they'll blend smoothly by the time you're ready to make your smoothie. Add your favorite protein powder for an additional protein boost and customize with your favorite dairy and fruits. You can also adapt a smoothie into a bowl and top with your favorite nuts, seeds, and whole berries. There's no wrong way to smoothie! 

Garnish autumn soups

What's better than an ingredient that's just as aesthetically pleasing as it is tasty? Pumpkin seeds are a great addition as garnish for creamy butternut squash or pumpkin soups. Not only does the taste of the squash contrast the flavors of the pumpkin seed, but the bright pop of color from the pumpkin seeds boosts the aesthetics of the dish tremendously. According to the iPhone Photography School, using contrasting colors in food photography helps evoke emotion and can make your dish appear more appetizing to the folks on your Instagram feed. Plus, the best part is enjoying the soup after your #phoneeatsfirst. 

Add a sprinkle to your charcuterie board

Charcuterie boards are popular for parties, beach dates, and snacking alike. Pumpkin seeds provide a great asset to a well-designed charcuterie board because of their fattiness and saltiness. The texture of a roasted, spiced pumpkin seed contrasts the softness of even the best types of cheeses on your charcuterie board. Pumpkin seeds can be served with everything from brie to maple-smoked cheddar. 

We recommend complementing pumpkin seeds with something sweet — like a jam with accompanying crackers. This will provide an optimal flavor experience and some relief from the saltiness of many items on a standard board. 

Make pumpkin seed butter

You may be familiar with peanut butter, but have you ever heard of pumpkin seed butter? This homemade treat is safe for folks with peanut and tree-nut allergies and contains a few simple ingredients: pumpkin seeds, salt, and vegetable oil. You'll want to use shelled pumpkin seeds for your pumpkin seed butter, because you'd end up spitting out the hulls if you used whole pumpkin seeds. After adding the ingredients to a blender or food processor, you'll want to pulse and scrape down the sides of the container until the ingredients are smooth and silky. Be sure not to over-process the pumpkin seed butter, because it can actually become over-processed and become rock solid. The ideal texture is similar to peanut butter. 

Transform into pancake batter

The perfect pancake isn't one from an overly-sweet box mix, it's from a rustic recipe that produces a hearty, filling pancake. Although many "alternative" pancake batters are made with oat or buckwheat flour, you can transform shelled pumpkin seeds into a useable pancake ingredient. You'll want to pulse the pumpkin seeds until fine before combining the resulting "flour" with a binder (eggs or egg alternatives like bananas), spices, and nut butter. After cooking and topping your pancakes with a hefty amount of maple syrup and berries, you're sure to be pleased with how filling and satisfying pumpkin seeds can be. 

Bake into savory crackers

There might be nothing more pleasing than biting into a savory, crunchy cracker. We recommend making a simple cracker with a little help from shelled pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and flax seeds. While you can use traditional flour for homemade crackers, we recommend stepping up the flavor game and substituting buckwheat flour, which is nutty, fibrous, and really complements the seeds well. 

You can snack on homemade pumpkin seed crackers by the bowlful, or serve with your favorite cheese or hummus dip. We recommend trying a soft cheese, like a brie or a Camembert, to contrast the crunch of the seeds. 

Include in a wild rice bowl

Wild rice is a grass with close to twice the amount of protein and fiber as brown rice, according to Michigan State University. Wild rice has a much nuttier taste than conventional rice — especially when cooked in stock. 

Wild rice provides a great base for a rice bowl that includes pumpkin seeds, and you can get creative by adding an array of colorful fruits and vegetables like mangos, scallions, red peppers, carrots, and celery. The pumpkin seeds not only provide a bright green color to the bowl, but also provide a satisfying crunch to complement the other textures present. The flavors all come together with a dressing of your choice — we recommend something gingery with a pop from fresh herbs like parsley and cilantro. A wild rice bowl makes a great side salad for tacos or a meal in itself. 

Make a pesto for your pasta

Toasted pumpkin seeds are the key ingredient for an easy pumpkin seed pesto pasta recipe from chef Ashley Eddie. The toasted pumpkin seeds provide the perfect nutty hint along with sofritto, pumpkin seed oil, and an anchovy filet. The pesto is then tossed with your choice of pasta, more anchovies, parsley, and ricotta salada. It's the perfect mix of salty and savory Italian — and it's easy to make in less than an hour. You can also alter the recipe to omit the anchovies (we don't blame you) — although you might miss a lot of the profound flavors in the dish. 

Use as a crust for meat or fish

Pumpkin seeds are obviously versatile, so it should be no surprise that a home cook could use the seeds as a coating for baked meat or fish. To make a crust at home, you'll want to finely pulse shelled pumpkin seeds with seasonings (we think garlic, chives, and onion powder are perfect pairings). Other seeds, especially sunflower seeds, can also be pulsed into the mixture for a stronger nutty flavor as well. 

We've found that pumpkin seeds lend themselves well to the flavors of halibut, tilapia, trout, and salmon. For those looking to stay on land, we recommend crusting chicken breasts in pumpkin seeds, too.

Mix into guacamole for a surprise crunch

Crave-worthy guacamole features a few simple ingredients like avocados, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and cilantro. If you're missing an extra crunch in your guacamole, consider adding chopped pumpkin seeds. You'll want to sprinkle a bit of the chopped pumpkin seeds in when you add the onion and tomatoes to the guacamole. While we recommend using roasted, salted pumpkin seeds for this guacamole recipe, adding raw shelled pumpkin seeds is also a perfectly functional option. If you roast your own seeds, you may consider spicing the batch with cumin and cayenne — both of which would lend well to a spicy guacamole. 

Add to a crumble for cobbler

Nothing says fall quite like an apple cobbler. If you want to add a boost to your favorite cobbler streusel topping, consider adding some raw pumpkin seeds with the traditional streusel topping: brown sugar, butter, flour, and cinnamon. You'll get a boost of nutty undertones from the pumpkin seeds, along with a satisfying crunch when you bite into the cobbler. While you can use this for any other types of cobbler, we have found that the flavor of the pumpkin seeds pairs best with apples, pears, and peaches. You can also use pumpkin seed streusel to top your favorite homemade muffins. 

Use in a mole recipe

Green pumpkin seed mole is the perfect companion to slow-braised short ribs. Not only do you get the nutty undertones from the seeds, but this recipe also packs a fair amount of heat from poblano, jalapeño peppers, and tomatillos. You'll also find a satisfying, fresh crunch from cilantro and onions. 

To make mole at home, combine the peppers, toasted pumpkin seeds (for optimal flavor), herbs, and chicken stock in a blender. Pulse until thick before adding the mixture to a low-medium heat to warm through. We suggest serving the mole and short ribs with white rice, but you can also alter the recipe to serve with your desired choice of meat and starch. 

Add to homemade salsa

Salsa can always use a little reprieve from the acid and heat. Luckily, pumpkin seeds are here to help! We were initially inspired by Trader Joe's pepita salsa — which combines the acidic tang of fresh tomatoes, red pepper puree, vinegar, and onions with the fattiness of dry roasted pepitas. If you plan on making pumpkin seed salsa at home, we recommend using roasted seeds rather than raw seeds, because the crispiness tends to hold up much better if the seeds are roasted prior. Serve pumpkin seed salsa with your favorite tortilla chips or atop a breakfast bowl with scrambled eggs.