What Are Pepitas, and What Can You Do with Them?

If all pepitas are pumpkin seeds, does that mean that all pumpkin seeds are pepitas?

Many people use the words pepitas and pumpkin seeds interchangeably, but are they the same thing? As it turns out, there’s a difference between the two. Even though it does sound pretty cool, “pepita” isn’t just a cool way to say “pumpkin seed.”

What’s the Difference Between Pumpkin Seeds and Pepitas?

Pepitas and pumpkin seeds are actually two different things. (And they aren’t hulled pumpkin seeds, either!) A pepita is harvested from specific hulless pumpkin varieties, known as Styrian or Oil Seed pumpkins. They even have hip names like Lady Godiva, Naked Bear and Kakai Hulless Pumpkin. Any other variety of pumpkin produces a hulled seed that’s slightly fibrous and less tender.

You can certainly substitute one for the other, but there is a rule: You can always substitute pepitas for pumpkin seeds, but it’s best to only substitute pumpkin seeds for recipes that call for pepitas as a garnish. So, you wouldn’t want to use pumpkin seeds to make this Cilantro-Pepita Pesto, but you could use them as a garnish for this Slow Cooker Sweet Potato Soup.

Are Pine Nuts and Pepitas the Same?

pine nuts and pepitas apomares/Getty Images

No. Pepitas make a great, inexpensive substitution for pine nuts in pestos and salads, and they’re both seeds, but they’re not the same. They both have a sweet, mild flavor and contain a lot of oil, but pepitas are the seeds of a pumpkin whereas pine nuts are the edible seeds of pine trees.

The reason that pine nuts are so expensive? They’re harvested from pine cones, which can take 18 months to three years to mature. On the other hand, pepitas can be harvested every year—and, the pumpkin flesh can be used to make canned pumpkin puree. (Psst! Learn why our Test Kitchen recommends using canned pumpkin over fresh.)

Are Pepitas Good for You?

Like pumpkin seeds are nutritional powerhouse, pepitas are also packed full of nutrients. They’re also a low-calorie snack: a one-ounce serving has only 170 calories and 4 grams of carbs while providing 15 grams of heart-healthy fats and 9 grams of protein.

Pepitas are filled with beneficial vitamins and minerals, like iron, zinc, manganese, phosphorous and magnesium. Those nutrients will help keep your body performing at peak condition. In addition to forming healthy teeth and bones by assisting your body to absorb calcium, the nutrients in pepitas also work hard to keep your immune system healthy, maintain muscle and nerve function and keep your cells functioning at proper levels.

How to Enjoy Pepitas

You can snack on pumpkin seeds, stir them into grain bowls or use them in all kinds of recipes.

  1. Roast them and eat them as a healthy snack. You can add flavor like in this Mocha Pumpkin Seeds recipe.
  2. Add a handful to your favorite rice recipe, or mix them in with nutty quinoa.
  3. Season ’em up however you like and use them as a salad topper to add crunch without adding bready croutons.
  4. Use them as a coating for oven baked chicken.
  5. Mix them into baked goods like Pumpkin Seed Cranberry Biscotti or add them to your favorite granola recipe.
  6. Puree them into sauces or salsas to add extra depth to the recipe.

Next Up: Learn how to roast pumpkin seeds.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.