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
|None||400 degrees F for 20 minutes||1 tbl vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chipotle powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
|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
|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
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.)
I was surprised by how good these seeds tasted, and I can’t stop snacking on them.