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Pumpkin seed oil is an edible substance made from roasted, pressed pumpkin seeds. First made in the Austrian state of Styria in the 17th century, pumpkin seed oil can be found in many regional dishes and has become an important European food export. In addition to lending dishes a distinct nutty flavor, it is also rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, making it a desirable alternative to other oils.
The oil is extracted from the Styrian pumpkin, the scientific name of which is Cucurbita pepo var. styria. This pumpkin species is distinctive for its yellow-green or yellow-orange rind. Its seeds have a thin membrane instead of a shell and are easy to remove from the gourd’s flesh. The pumpkins are native to the Styrian region of Austria and northern Slovenia and also are found in Croatia, Macedonia and Hungary. In recent years, the Styrian pumpkin cultivation programs have begun beyond Europe, notably in North America and New Zealand.
Styrian pumpkins are harvested each fall. The seeds are roasted for a short time, then pressed to produce pumpkin seed oil. The oil itself typically is thick and green, although when stored in large quantities or held up to light, it can take on a reddish tinge. Once bottled, the oil is sold in specialty food stores and sometimes in supermarkets.
The oil is often used for dressings for salad and vegetables and is sometimes added to recipes in which its nutty flavor can enhance the taste of certain meats. European diners have even been known to pour it over ice cream or yogurt. It is not recommended as cooking oil because even low heat can destroy some of the oil’s beneficial fatty acids. The seeds themselves are edible and sold as snack food.
Pumpkin seed oil is rich in zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Zinc can help maintain bone density, particularly in older men. The plentitude of zinc in pumpkin seed oil might also contribute to prostate health for men and reduce bladder irritation for women.
There is an old European tradition of using pumpkin seed oil as a remedy for a number of ailments. The oil has long been used in Germany to help rid the body of tapeworms. For years, many believed the oil could treat everything from kidney stones to impotence. There is little evidence to support the effectiveness of many such folk remedies, although research suggests pumpkin seed oil can help reduce hardening of the arteries and regulate cholesterol levels.