In the fertile rolling countryside of eastern Austria and adjacent Slovenia, Yugoslavia, and Hungary, a unique cultivar of pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) has been grown for at least 100 years. It is called the naked-seeded, hull-less, or Styrian pumpkin and is characterized by having a thin membranous seed coat (testa) rather than the lignified seed coat of conventional pumpkin seeds. Therefore, the entire seed is edible and easily crushed to extract the prized edible oil.
With advantages come disadvantages. Without the tough protective seed coat, the naked seeds are easily broken, have a shorter viable period, and are prone to poor germination, thus making seed saving more challenging. In recent years, milder winters in Europe have resulted in the increase spread of diseases, particularly zucchini yellow mosaic virus, in the pumpkin fields. There is a great need for the protection of this plant from viruses, so that it can make its full contribution to human nutrition and health.
The seed is usually roasted before being pressed for its high oil content. The oil is viscous, dark green to slightly reddish with a unique robust nut-like flavor. It takes almost 2.5 kilograms of seedsfive pumpkins worthto produce one liter of oil. A one hectare field may yield 9,000 or so fruits.
In Styria, kürbiskernöl is as popular as olive oil in the nearby Mediterranean region. About 70 commercial oil mills are operating in the region. These play a major economic role and help maintain the family owned and operated farm structure. Herbicide and pesticide use is kept to a minimum.
The oil is used in salads and drizzled on soups and pasta but may not be used for frying due to its low burning point. Worldwide, the hull-less seeded pumpkin is also gaining in popularity as a convenient and nutritious tasty snackseed.
In addition to its culinary use, the naked-seeded pumpkin is used medicinally. The highly unsaturated oil is reputed to boost the immune system and prevent prostate cancer.
At present, pumpkin seed oil is rarely mentioned in surveys of vegetable oils and in studies on the economic uses of Cucurbita pepo. Only in the last few years has the oil become available in countries outside of Central and Eastern Europe. Breeding programs are being conducted in North America, New Zealand, and Europe. Improvements in the crop's protection and marketing will help increase its economic value.
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