Pumpkin Seeds & their Oil:
Fuelling the Styrians′ Engines

Pumpkin in my parents garden - shamelessly abused to illustrate this article on Styrian pumpkin seed oil

A popular joke in Austria is that Styrians need a litre of pumpkin seed oil to keep going once ever 100 kilometres. This joke is referring to two local specifics: The province′s passion for pumpkins (and the oil from their seeds), and its traditional car industries. Pumpkins were first imported to Europe by Christopher Columbus after the discovery of the Americas.

An import item that was taken up by the Styrians with much excitement: Over the course of the centuries, the pumpkin grew deep roots in the culture of the Syrian hills around Leibnitz, Bad Radkersburg and other areas in the West of the province. Local varieties compete in several different disciplines, and both pulp and seeds are used for a range of products.

Pumpkin seed oil is with no doubt the most legendary and precious product made from the giant vegetable. The very dark, greenish oil has a distinct flavour: A bit nutty, but unlike any other oil. It is commonly used in Austria - naturally in particular in Styria - for salads and dressings, for soups and sauces, sometimes in combination with pasta and other dishes.

A long time ago, a friend of mine and me thought about making pumpkin seed toffees after a shockingly delicious experiment with soy sauce toffees - so far, I haven′t had the time to try it, but I promise to post an article on it in case it works.

Pumpkin Seeds: Only "Echtes Steirisches Kürbiskernöl"

Pumpkin seed oil is rich in the usual suspects (vitamins, minerals and alike), but in particular rich of unsaturated fatty acids, which have an immaculate reputation for being oh-so-healthy. The pumpkin farmers claim that there is scientific evidence - and there might well be - that pumpkin seeds and the oil from them is healthy for bladder and prostate. In sex-obsessed Austria, this surely helps to fuel the sales. The role that pumpkin seed oil plays in the Styrian agriculture is the reason why it is often referred to as the "green gold" of Styria.

Pumpkin seeds can also get roasted and lightly salted to be nibbled like peanuts, sometimes flavoured with all kinds of spices. You will get the plain, salted version in almost any supermarket in Austria, but the oil is what you really should try. The "real" Styrian pumpkin seed oil is labelled with a special seal, consisting of a yellow and green cycle with an integrated EU mark to ensure high quality standards. It is then labelled as "Echtes Steirisches Kürbiskernöl" ("Original Styrian Pumpkin Seed Oil").

The obsession that locals from Western Styria have with their beloved pumpkin seeds resembles the one of Italian farmers with olives or people from Normandy with cider. To the farmers of Styria, the climate and soil of the region in which they live is unique and gives rise to unique pumpkins. I like regional, agricultural pride - especially if it is well-deserved and due to a distinct and distinguished product. Going to Styria and missing out on the "green gold" is like going to Porto and not drinking Port. You just don′t do it.

Further Reading

More on Austrian Cuisine

Slowfood Austria

Regional Cuisine of Austria

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