Known as Kürbiskernöl in German, pumpkin seed oil is to Austrians what olive oil is to Italians. It has a long history in Styria, in southeastern Austria, and in parts of Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary.
Its popularity as a curative can be traced back to the early 18th century. In 1773, Austrian Empress Maria Theresa declared, “This healthy oil is unique and much too precious. it shall not be used as a culinary delicacy anymore but shall be collected and distributed only by the apothecaries.” The main use for pumpkin seed oil at that time was in treating prostate problems and enhancing libido.
Pumpkin Seed Oil – Health Benefits
Since then, science has proven that pumpkin seed oil, in fact, contains many health benefits:
- Antioxidants A, C and E, selenium and many phytosterols which help reduce the risk of arteriosclerosis, heart disease, stroke and cancer and regulate cholesterol levels. It contains more vitamin E than sunflower, corn or olive oil.
- Vitamins B1, B2, B6, D.
- Minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and phosphor, zinc and a wide range of trace elements.
- High levels of essential fatty acids (second only to flaxseeds), producing prostaglandins which regulate heart rate, blood pressure and inflammation and aid in fighting infections.
- Significant amounts of vegetable protein.
- As a German folk medicine, it has been used to treat irritable bowel syndrome and, with castor oil, to rid patients of intestinal parasites.
- Preliminary studies have shown that pumpkin seeds may reduce the risk and alleviate symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and improve prostate health. The German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices found that components of pumpkin seeds have positive effect on the bladder and prostate.
- As a massage oil, it purportedly relieves tension, headaches, muscle pain, rheumatic problems, sprains and redness.
- As a cream it is used for dry skin care, dandruff and is said to help prevent stretch marks.
Pumpkin Seed Oil – Versatility
With its distinctive, nutty taste, pumpkin seed oil can substitute for oils like sesame, walnut and sunflower. It can be used in a variety of ways and recipes:
- Shake it up in salad dressings with balsamic vinegar,
- Stir into a cold marinade,
- Make it your oil for potato or bean salads,
- Drizzle over ravioli or risotto,
- Toss with pasta and grated parmesan,
- Splash over vegetable soups before serving,
- Mix into dips.
It is not recommended for cooking since it has a low burning point. Heat destroys essential fatty acids and converts it to a trans fat.
Pumpkin Seed Oil – Buying and Storing
The Styrian pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo styriaca) is said to produce the highest quality oil. It is a special variety of pumpkin with yellowish green skin, yellow flesh and dark green, hulless seeds. Look for a viscous, light to dark green oil made from 100% pumpkin seeds with no additives. Pumpkin seed oil’s appearance has been likened to axle grease and crude oil; in contrast, it has a delicate taste. Some producers add cheaper sunflower seed oil which impacts health benefits and flavor.
Pumpkin seed oil has a shelf life of about nine months when stored in a cool, dark place. The optimal storage temperature is about 59° F (15° C).
Extracting oil from the seeds is a complex and expensive process. The seeds are dried, mashed, gently roasted at low temperatures to maintain taste and health benefits, and then pressed. It takes about 30 pumpkins to make one liter of oil.
You can find a good quality of pumpkin seed oil in gourmet and specialty shops. It does not come cheaply, but it can bring refined taste, bright color and good health to your table and life.