Pepita (from Mexican Spanish: pepita de calabaza, "little seed of squash") is a Spanish culinary term for the pumpkin seed, the edible seed of a pumpkin or other cultivar of squash (genus Cucurbita). The seeds are typically rather flat and asymmetrically oval, and light green in color and may have a white outer hull. Some cultivars are hulless, and are grown only for their seed. The seeds are nutrient-rich, with especially high content of protein, dietary fiber and numerous micronutrients. The word can refer either to the hulled kernel or unhulled whole seed, and most commonly refers to the roasted end product.
Crunchy, delicious pumpkin seeds are high in calories; about 559 calories per 100 g. In addition, they are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and numerous health promoting antioxidants.
Their high calorific value mainly comes from protein and fats. Nonetheless, the kernels are especially rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) like oleic acid (18:1) that helps lower bad LDL cholesterol and increases good HDL cholesterol in the blood. Research studies suggest that Mediterranean diet which is liberal in monounsaturated fatty acids help to prevent coronary artery disease and stroke risk by favoring healthy blood lipid profile.
Pumpkin seeds carry good-quality protein. 100 g seeds provide 30 g or 54% of recommended daily allowance of protein. In addition, the seeds are an excellent source of amino acid tryptophan and glutamate. Tryptophan is converted into serotonin and niacin. Serotonin is a beneficial neuro-chemical often labeled as nature's sleeping pill. Further, tryptophan is the precursor of B-complex vitamin, niacin (60 mg of tryptophan = 1 mg niacin).
Glutamate is required in the synthesis of gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA). GABA, an anti-stress neurochemical in the brain, helps reducing anxiety, nervous irritability, and other neurotic conditions.
Pumpkin seeds are a very good source of anti-oxidant vitamin E; contain about 35.10 mg of tocopherol-gamma per 100 g (about 237% of RDA). Vitamin E is a powerful lipid soluble antioxidant. It prevents tissue cells from the free radical mediated oxidant injury. Thus, it helps maintain the integrity of mucusa and skin by protecting from harmful oxygen-free radicals.
Pumpkin kernels are also an excellent source of B-complex group of vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) and folates. These vitamins work as co-factors for various enzymes during cellular substrate metabolism in the human body. In addition, niacin helps in the reduction of LDL-cholesterol levels in the blood. Along with glutamate, it enhances GABA activity inside the brain, which in turn reduces anxiety and nervous irritability.
Furthermore, its seeds contain good amounts of essential minerals like copper, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium. Just as in pine nuts, pumpkin seeds too are very rich in manganese (provide 4543 mg per 100 g, about 198% of daily-recommended intake). Manganese is an all-important co-factor for antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. It is therefore, consumption of pumpkin kernels help develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful oxygen-free radicals.