Tested: The Best Way to Roast Pumpkin Seeds

There are literally thousands of recipes for roasted pumpkin seeds, and they are all essentially the same: Scoop the seeds from a pumpkin and rinse them, then coat them in oil, salt and spices and bake.

Of course, the devil is in the details, and upon close inspection of these recipes, I found there was no consensus on the amount of time to cook the seeds, what temperature to cook them at, whether to cook them in oil or butter, and whether to dry roast the seeds first or boil them in water.

Throughout my childhood, we would roast the seeds from the pumpkin we carved each halloween. I never found those seeds to be very appealing, however. The outer shell was tough and didn’t have a good crunch, and the seeds were fairly flavorless.

I knew it would be impractical to test every cooking permutation, but I wanted to try a variety of different recipes so I could definitively answer the best way to roast pumpkin seeds. I wanted to know:

  • What is better: A long baking time at a low temperature or a shorter baking time at a higher temperature?
  • Is it better to cook the seeds with oil or butter? Are sweet or savory seeds tastier?
  • A couple recipes recommended cooking the seeds in boiling water before roasting them, but didn’t explain how this added step would improve the taste. Other recipes recommended dry roasting the seeds, then tossing them in oil and spices and roasting some more. What was the best method to follow?

First I had to prepare the seeds for baking. I bought four 3-pound sugar pumpkins (I’m going to use the flesh in other dishes). Each small pumpkin had just under 1 cup of seeds. I rinsed the seeds thoroughly, cleaning off the strings of pumpkin goop. Then I started my testing.

The Great Pumpkin Seed Testing Matrix

Pre-baking Baking Temp and Time Seasoning Recipe Ranking
Seeds boiled in 4 cups of water with 2 tablespoons of salt for 10 minutes 400 degrees F for 20 minutes 1 tbl vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp chipotle powder
1
None 400 degrees F for 20 minutes 1 tbl vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chipotle powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2
Seeds dry roasted in 300 degree oven for 30 minutes 300 degrees F for 20 minutes 1 tbl vegetable oil
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp hot paprika
3
None 400 degrees F for 20 minutes 1 tbl butter
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
4

Now it’s time to draw some conclusions.

  • Most importantly, pre-cooking the seeds in boiling water is absolutely worth it. It makes the seeds much crunchier, leads to a more “roast-y” tasting seed, and seasons the seeds better.
  • High-temperature roasting is much better than low-temperature roasting, and dry-roasting the seeds doesn’t make much of a different. The batch of seeds that I cooked for a total of 50 minutes at 300 degrees F still had shells that were tough.
  • Robust seasonings – like cayenne and chipotle powder – are much better than more delicate seasonings, like paprika. Even though the smoked paprika smelled great while I was tossing the seeds in it, the flavor almost completely disappeared in the oven.
  • Don’t over-salt your seeds. In one variation I tried to make up for not pre-cooking my seeds in salted water by adding 1 teaspoon of salt to the seasoning mix, rather than 1/2 teaspoon. Doubling the salt just made the seeds too salty on the outside.
  • Savory works much better than sweet. While the salty seeds stayed salty, most of the sweetness vanished. The sweet spice mix I used – a traditional combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves – also didn’t work very well with the pumpkin.
  • Oil is better than butter (butter is especially bad when combined with sugar). I was afraid my seeds with butter and sugar were going to burn, and guess what – they did! The butter also didn’t crisp the seeds as well as the oil did.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one way to make pumpkin seeds now. The recipe below is for 1 cup of pumpkin seeds, but it can easily be doubled. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Then bring 4 cups of water for every 1 cup of seeds to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt for every 1 cup of seeds. Simmer the seeds for 10 minutes. Then drain.

 

Step 2. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper and toss to combine. (Note: Feel free to play around with the seasoning, but stay in the range of 1/2-1 teaspoon per cup. Spicy seasonings, like chipotle and cayenne, stand up well.)

Step 3. Roast for 20 minutes. Check on the seeds at the end of the roasting time to make sure they don’t start turning too brown. Then transfer to a plate to cool.

I was surprised by how good these seeds tasted, and I can’t stop snacking on them.

  • Joe

    Thank you! I’ve always wondered about the temperature and time for roasting pumpkin seeds. Also, when I was a kid we just salted them, so it never even occurred to me to try other spices. I think you may have just revolutionized my Halloweens for years to come. 

  • Wkdmnky

    I am glad I followed your directions to boil the seeds first.  I think it did help to make the outer skin of the seeds easier to chew.  I did a couple of more simply spiced batches and had to try a small batch, about 1/4 cup, that I used Frank’s red hot sauce on.  It takes a little longer to cook them that way so they are dry when they come out, but it is worth it!  They were great! Thanks for the savory vs. sweet recommendation.  I totally agree!

    • http://themanlyhousekeeper.com Mark Evitt

      Hot sauce is a great suggestion! I’m definitely trying that the next time I make pumpkin seeds.

      I also wonder if you can infuse the seeds with more flavor by boiling them in flavored water – maybe adding a bay leaf or two?

  • Lauren

    Mine got a little brown due to roaster’s (my) error :/ But these were still absolutely delicious (even the char added some awesome flavor). I played around with the spices but definitely used your savory recommendation (used salt, cumin, cayenne, chili powder, turmeric, and garlic powder). YUM. The boiling recommendation however is the best piece of advice I’ve had in a while. I religiously make pumpkin seeds each year but could never achieve the crunchy seed, usually I got the chewy, almost choke-worthy outer shell. Boiling made all the difference. Thank you!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1843613058 Kristi Monson

    I love the semi-scientific approach! This is now my go-to pumpkin seed recipe. SO much better than my previous attempts. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/lgoodfellow Lorna Jennifer Marie Goodfello

    Hi,

    Just wanted to say, that boiling is definitely the way forward! thank you so much, my 2yr old daughter and I are snacking away on our freshly harvested and cooked seeds, as I type this :)
    I’ve found that the best way to get sweet flavoured seeds is to dust them a mix of icing sugar and salt after cooking, which makes for some awesome festive flavoured snacking :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/laura.messer.589 Laura Messer

    I’ve tried many different recipes over the years… and had many successes and many failures… I’d always heard to soak the seeds overnight to soften the shell… which I did… my seeds are roasting as I type… only about 5 minutes left… I don’t handle spices too well… so I used a simple “mixed up salt” that I found at the store a while ago… We’ll see how it works having boiled the seeds first.
    After the other reviews – I have high hopes!

  • http://twitter.com/lareveuse lareveuse

    Mmmm! Thank you! I made these today. I’d dried my seeds a few days, hoping that would help, but boiled as you suggested. I ended up cooking them longer (30 min.) but I had 2.5 cups on a half sheet pan, so they may have needed more room. After 20, they were a bit too chewy. I seasoned with salt, chili powder, cumin and chipotle. They are very tasty!

  • Susanna

    I had all of the same questions you did. So glad you did all of this research so I didn’t have to! Thank you!!

  • Brooke

    Wow, this article is EXACTLY what I was looking for. I had the very same thought in my head about difference in cooking methods but no time to test it. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

  • BAY

    What a great find when I came across this recipe. Thank you for the “devil in the details”! Thanks for doing all of the work to figure out which was best! I only have a certain amount of seeds to use so I didn’t want to “experiment”. Wonderful tasting seeds!

  • Alisa

    Delicious! I added cumin and replaced the salt with garlic salt. So good,

  • Jess

    Wooshie sauce and garlic powder (or salt) are great seasonings too… go lighter on the salt because wooshie sauce is salty on its own – makes is kinda like it should be in some chex mix! I tried this combo with a little crushed red pepper and even though they got burnt I still couldn’t keep out of them!

  • danimal

    Nice work. I’m on board with a touch of wooshie and a very small amount of liquid smoke and some soy, cayenne and scant garlic powder. Getting fired up to roast some from 5 big punkins right now :)

  • RP247

    Brilliant – exactly what I needed to know. Tried your recommended method and worked great. Also tried squash seeds but these where much bigger and chunkier than pumpkin ones and didn’t really work, shells were too thick.
    Agree that savory flavours were better – although I did try vanilla essence (a lot), sugar and honey and they are quite nice.
    Thank you for doing all the hard work so I didn’t have to!

  • Lisa

    Thanks for doing that test for us!

    • dlmz06

      I tried essentially the same thing with only one pan. I steamed the seeds in a frying pan with a few tablespoons of water, then fried the seeds
      in the pan with a few tablespoons of oil to keep the bottom of the pan from being completely dry, adding only as much oil as needed while stirring and pan roasting at 400 F, the bottom of the pan temp measured with my IR gun. A little sea salt, for flavor. Same sort of process as roasting coffee, chocolate, or cashews, all originating from Mesoamerica.

      Ms. Sophie Coe in her book America’s First Cuisines, said from 10,000 BC to 8000 BC, ate what we sould call hard winter squash for almost two millenia before corn arrived. That the Southwest and Mexican/Mesoamerican indians used the seeds to add essential oils to their otherwise deficient in essential fatty acids diet. I suspect other cultures did too. It would keep as a winter food. I suspect we all are well adapted to squash. Pottery in the shape of crook neck hard winter squashes have been recovered from that period.

Powered by WordPress | Deadline Theme : An AWESEM design