You’ve probably been reaching for that bottle of olive oil that’s always out on your countertop ever since you learned to cook. It’s a kitchen staple for everything from stir-fries to roasted veggies—it even makes a great salad dressing. But is pumpkin seed oil about to push olive oil out of the spotlight?
Pumpkin seed oil (also called pepita oil) might seem like a trendy new ingredient. But it has a long history of use in many cultures.
“Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil are staples in African cuisine due to their flavor and health benefit, and they are becoming increasingly popular in the United States,” said Tyler Florek, a registered dietitian with Banner Health. The oil is also commonly used in Mexico, India and China.
Along with its distinct nutty flavor, there are good health reasons people from around the globe are reaching for pumpkin seed oil. It contains these nutrients that are important for overall health and well-being:
- Essential fatty acids, which can help keep your heart and brain healthy
- Vitamin E and antioxidants, which may nourish your skin and protect it against free radicals
- Magnesium, which helps you convert food into energy, move your muscles and calm your nervous system
- Zinc, which supports your immune system and metabolism
- Phytosterols, which are plant compounds that may help lower cholesterol levels and help with hair growth
- Natural compounds that may help support prostate health and function and relieve symptoms of an enlarged prostate
- Compounds that may protect you against ulcers and liver cell damage
Of course, adding one ingredient to your diet isn’t likely to have a big impact on your health. But pumpkin seed oil can be part of a healthy, balanced diet. If you’re interested in ways your food choices can make a difference to your health, talk to a dietitian or your health care provider.
How to try pumpkin seed oil
If you’re ready to add this nutritious oil to your diet, you can use it in a salad dressing, add it to smoothies or dips or drizzle it over roasted veggies, soups or scrambled eggs.
“Pumpkin seed oil has a lower smoke point than many other oils, so it’s probably not the best choice for sautéing, searing, frying or roasting,” Florek said. “It’s better with low-heat cooking or as a finishing oil. Try it in marinades, salad dressings, hummus or cold sauces like pesto, aioli and homemade mayonnaise or tzatziki.”
Like other oils, pumpkin seed oil is high in calories. So, it’s a good idea to use it in small amounts.
How to buy and store pumpkin seed oil
When you’re buying pumpkin seed oil, it’s a good idea to choose cold-pressed or expeller-pressed products. These techniques squeeze the oil from the seeds rather than using chemicals or solvents. If you choose an organic variety, you may want to make sure it has the “USDA Organic” certification on the label. That indicates it meets the requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Pumpkin seed oil is usually sold in a dark bottle or can to prevent light exposure and make it last longer. Store your pumpkin seed oil in a cool place like your refrigerator since it can spoil quickly.
The downsides of pumpkin seed oil
Pumpkin seed oil is a nutritious food, but some people are allergic or sensitive to it. If you think allergies or sensitivities might be a problem for you – especially if you have problems with squash or gourds – talk to a health care provider before adding it to your diet.
Compared to other oils, pumpkin seed oil can be expensive. It might also be hard to find. Check specialty food stores, both in person and online.
The bottom line
Pumpkin seed oil has a range of benefits for your body, including your heart, skin and prostate. The nutty flavor also makes it a delicious choice for adding to salad dressings, drizzling over roasted veggies or blending into hummus. Like all oils, pumpkin seed oil should be used in small amounts. If you’re allergic or sensitive to squash or gourds, you’ll likely need to avoid it.
To learn more about the pros and cons of adding pumpkin seed oil or other foods to your diet, please reach out to a health care provider at Banner.