Pine Nuts and Pumpkin Seeds: How Are They Different? How Are They Similar?
Pine nuts and pumpkin seeds have such different historical backgrounds, classifications, and attributes, yet are quite similar in nutritional value, health benefits, and other areas.
Historical Backgrounds and Classifications of Pine Nuts and Pumpkin Seeds
Pine nuts, also called pignoli nuts, pinyon, pinon nuts, cedar nuts, and chilgoza are seeds or seedlings of the pine cone. Two to three years after pollination, the flowers become cones. When the cones mature, they burst open to reveal the seeds. Pine nuts have been around for about 6,000 to 10,000 years, and there are several varieties. Evidence suggests that they have always been a staple part of the diet and health of Native Americans.
Pine trees belong to the genus Pinus and the family Pinaceae. They seem to prefer the cold temperatures of North America, Europe, and Asia.
Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are the kernels of the pumpkin fruit, which we use as a vegetable. They have been around since 1,300 to 1,500 AD, and they also come in many varieties. The seeds’ culinary and medicinal importance is global, but the plant is native to the Americas though some sources refer to Mexico as its exclusive country of origin.
Pumpkins belong to the genus Cucurbita and the family Cucurbitaceae. The Whole Foods article “Pumpkin Seeds” reports that China currently cultivates more pumpkins and seeds than any other country. Illinois is the largest producer in the United States.
Description of Pine Nuts and Pumpkin Seeds
Pine nut shells are dark brown and hard. Kernels are creamy white. Though generally small and somewhat oval, size and shape really depends on variety. For example, oriental pine nuts are large, broad, and require a machine to crack the shells. Shells of smaller varieties can be opened with simple hand pliers.
Not all varieties of pumpkin seeds have husks or shells. Those that do, the husks are ash-or yellow-white. Kernels are green, flat, and oval.
Nutritional Value and Health Benefits of Pine Nuts and Pumpkin Seeds
(1) Monounsaturated fat. This nutrient is plentiful in both pine nuts and pumpkin seeds. Research show its ability to lower the LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) or bad cholesterol levels in the blood, which in turn decreases blood pressure and the possibility of heart attacks, strokes, and other coronary issues. Monounsaturated fat also increases the HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) or good cholesterol in our blood stream.
(2) Fatty acids. Pine nuts are rich in pinolenic acid, which suppresses the appetite and aids weight loss by triggering an increase in the production of the enzymes cholecystokinin and glucagon-like peptide-1.
Pumpkin seeds have a decent ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, which are beneficial for having healthy skin and hair and preventing osteoarthritis. They also make the seeds anti-inflammatory.
Overall the kernels of both pine nuts and pumpkin seeds are high in fat with roughly 600 plus calories in 100 grams.
(3) Antioxidants. Pine nuts contain high concentrations of lutein and beta-carotene, which slows down the macula degeneration process: deterioration of the part of the retina that is essential for vision. This is a common aspect of aging and can lead to blindness. Reports determined that macula degeneration is found in 30 percent of seniors over the age of 80. Scientists believe that the antioxidants can also stave off cataracts.
Phytochemicals are prevalent in both pine nuts and pumpkin seeds. They remove harmful free radicals from the cells in our bodies before they do serious damage. Pumpkin seeds have a variety of phenolic antioxidants, including caffeic, coumaric, hydroxybenzoic, ferulic, and sinapic acids. They also have the lignans lariciresinol, medioresinol, and pinoresinol. Evidence shows these lignans to contain anti-viral and anti-fungal properties, and that they may even reduce the risk of some cancers.
(4) Vitamins. Pine nuts and pumpkin seeds have high concentrations of B-complex vitamins. Thiamine (B-1), riboflavin (B-2), niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), pyridoxine (B-6), and folate (B-9) support our body’s metabolic processes. Vitamin C not only has antioxidant properties, but also strengthens our immune system. Vitamins E and K are necessary for maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. Vitamin E also helps in red blood cell production, and protects our skin and mucus membranes from free radical damage. Vitamin K also helps blood to clot. Besides alpha-tocopherol, the vitamin E in pumpkin seeds is in the form of gamma-tocopherol and delta-tocopherol.
(5) Minerals. Pine nuts and pumpkin seeds are excellent sources of the minerals manganese, copper, magnesium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, and iron. Besides being an antioxidant, manganese helps the body fight off infections, and keep its cardiovascular system and hormones in balance. Copper supports heart health, helps the body to absorb iron, and slows the aging process. Magnesium, another supporter of a healthy cardio system, aids in the synthesis of our DNA and RNA, relieves muscle cramps, contributes to teeth and bone production, provides energy, and helps us maintain good bowel movement. Potassium also ensures a healthy cardiovascular system. Zinc and phosphorus both help to strengthen the immune system and fight off infectious diseases. Zinc is also important for regulation of insulin, healthy eyes and skin, relieving issues of depression, preventing chronic fatigue, and maintaining a healthy prostate and sexual function in men. Iron is a strong supporter of our cardiovascular and central nervous systems.
(6) Protein. Pine nuts and pumpkin seeds have sufficient amounts of protein to provide energy, and build and repair our body’s muscles and other tissues.
(7) Fiber. The fiber in both pine nuts and pumpkin seeds helps us to maintain a proper functioning digestive system and weight control.
(8) Additional nutrients and health benefits. Pumpkin seeds have high concentrations of essential amino acids glutamate, which helps to lower neurotic conditions such as anxiety and irritability; and tryptophan, which aids in sleeping. Research also shows pumpkin seeds potential for insulin regulation (and thus providing help to diabetics), protecting against kidney stones, and eradicating parasitic worms from the digestive tract. Phytoestrogen compounds in both pumpkin seeds and pumpkin oil extract show ability in helping menopausal women cope with hot flashes, headaches, and other symptoms.
Side Effects from Eating Pine Nuts and Pumpkin Seeds
Eating pine nuts can result in a condition called pine mouth in which your tasting ability is altered so that everything tastes somewhat bitter. The condition can last a few hours to a week. You can also suffer allergic symptoms such as itchy skin, rashes, watery eyes, and nausea to more the more serious shortness of breath, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
Allergic reaction to pumpkin seed consumption is rare but could also occur.
Purchasing and Shelf Life of Pine Nuts and Pumpkin Seeds
Both pine nuts and pumpkin seeds are available year-round. They can be purchased from any market organic or otherwise. You can buy them raw or roasted, shelled or unshelled. They are housed in bins, prepackaged plastic bags, or other containers. Look for products that are vibrant in color and free of rancid odor. If shelled, they should be firm and free of cracks, spots, moisture, mold or any other damage.
If kept refrigerated in an air-tight container both pine nuts and pumpkin seeds should last for at least two months. You can also purchase pine nut oil and pumpkin seed oil.
Flavor and texture of Pine Nuts and Pumpkin Seeds
Pine nuts are sweet with lots of flavor and crunchy texture. Toasting brings out the flavor even more. Pumpkin seeds are also sweet with a nutty taste and crunchy texture.
Culinary Uses for Pine Nuts and Pumpkin Seeds
Both pine nuts and pumpkin seeds can be consumed raw or cooked. Pine nuts are used to enhance the flavor of the Italian pesto sauce. Pine nuts and pumpkin seeds are added to cereals, fruits, salads, and vegetables; used in desserts such as cookies, ice cream, and sundaes; in meat, poultry, fish and vegetable dishes; in soups; or eaten as sweet or unsweetened, salted or unsalted, spicy or un-spicy snacks.
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This article does not suggest using either pine nuts or pumpkin seeds to treat ailments. It is simply providing information. Always consult a medical or healthcare professional.
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