The pumpkin seed oil tradition in Slovenia is among the most enduring in the country. The use of this dark oil has a colorful history that is unique to the country’s vast array of outstanding culinary produce. Tourists always wonder how Slovenes’ love story with pumpkin seed oil started.
Pumpkin seed oil is treated as black gold from a green land, an integral part of Slovenian cuisine. The use of pumpkin seed oil comes back centuries into rural Slovenia, originally treated as food for peasants. Now, it is one of the most traditional Slovenian products out there.
Slovenia’s pumpkin seed oil tradition traces back centuries, and its status today is dissimilar to its status years ago. Let’s look at this tradition and see why it matters to you. If you’re visiting Slovenia, this will help you understand them more.
The Global History of Pumpkin Seed Oil
The global use of pumpkin seed oil did not start in Slovenia, and we have to admit that Slovenia did not have a monopoly in its history. Even then, Slovenes learned how to make pumpkin seed oil by instinct, rather than being taught by outsiders.
Pumpkin seed oil and pumpkin are widespread throughout the world. For centuries, people have been growing new types of pumpkins, which differ considerably in taste, color, size, and appearance. Wild-growing species of pumpkins have been used for food since ancient times. We assume that our ancestors harvested wild-growing fruits and fed on oilseeds.
Supposedly the oldest traces of natural pumpkin have been found in Southern Mexico. Using the radioactive carbon method, they were found to date back to about 10,000 BC.
It was several millennia before man began to use pumpkins and pumpkin seed oil usefully and cultivate them. Remains of pumpkins found near the residences indicate that this happened around 8,000 to 6,000 BC.
In the beginning, pumpkins were very bitter and quite unfit for human consumption. Over time, people began to deliberately pick the seeds of those pumpkins that were less bitter. As such, they began to be used more and more widely.
People have also started eating seeds as they have a large amount of oil. Over time, they began to extract pumpkin oil, which was an essential source of energy. Archaeological finds indicate that the seeds have even been roasted, probably for better taste.
Christopher Columbus brought pumpkins and pumpkin oil to Europe. At the end of the 15th century, they first arrived in Spain. The route by which the common garden gourd arrived from Spain to Austria, especially to Austrian Styria and Slovenia, is not entirely known. Nevertheless, this country soon became the cradle for quality pumpkin seed oil.
Pumpkin Seed Oil In Slovenia
The growth of pumpkins and their use within the local diet spread throughout the Northeastern region of Slovenia. Specifically, its use came to Prekmurje, Porabje, and Štajersko around the 17th century, together with the cultivation of corn.
Pumpkins, however, were especially popular. They allowed for better crop spacing, with their ability to be planted in the interim between two other crops. By doing so, prevents soil erosion and allows for better cycling of soil nutrition.
Several data from the time note that the extraction of pumpkin seed oil was a task that people associate with agricultural endeavors. It was not until the mid-18th century that archives mentioned having pumpkin seed oil for sale, with the first oil mills coming around this time.
The oil mill in Fram is among the oldest mills for pumpkin seed oil production in Slovenia. By around the 1800s, Fram had as many as three oil mills for their pumpkin seed oil. On the other hand, the famed pumpkin seed oil mill in Slovenska Bistrica was established in the early 20th century.
Many of these mills inside factories have oil production capabilities that exceeded domestic needs. Pumpkin seed oil was then exported to farther Austrian provinces. Over the past 300 years, the production of pumpkin seed oil was mostly for agricultural activity.
The Financial Viability of Pumpkin Seed Oil
People used oil production to make money, but it gradually developed into a craft and, subsequently, the broader, specialized production of oil. By the late 19th and early 20th century, pumpkin seed oil had increased in economic significance and its production value increased.
As a result, a good chunk of arable land in north-eastern Slovenia broadened. Much of the land used for the production of pumpkin seeds for oil increased. In 1875, as much as 0.82% of the arable land in Štajersko and a part of Prekmurje was cultivated with pumpkins.
The use was comparable to other more mainstream produce in Slovenia. For example, around the time, 0.30% of arable land was planted with rape, 3.17% with legumes, and 8.21% with potatoes.
A good chunk of the arable land in these two regions, however, still had mostly cereal. 16.79% of the lands were full of wheat, while 16.61% had rye. Even then, a majority of the pumpkin-oil mills Prekmurje and Štajersko that still operate today started in the early 20th century.
Artisanal Production of Pumpkin Seed Oil in Slovenia
In addition to their regular activities, a good chunk of local millers also started to produce pumpkin seed oil. These more artisanal oil mills are generally family businesses, many of which have the third or fourth generation of family members continuing this work.
One such example is the famed Kocbek oil plant in Stara Gora near Sv. Jurij pri Ščavnici. The plant itself has stayed in operation since 1929. G. K., its current owner, is a third-generation owner who got the business from their grandfather.
Eventually, the first generation owner gradually expanded their milling business. The expansion included the production of pumpkin seed oil and concentrated on it after World War II.
Due to pumpkin seed oil’s flourishing production in Štajersko and Prekmurje, a shortage of domestic bučnice pumpkin seeds in the 1920s and 1930s started. An additional influx of seeds imported from other parts of Yugoslavia at the time, especially from Croatia and Serbia.
Pumpkin seed oil from Štajersko and Prekmurje, renowned for its high quality, was also sold to Kranjsko and neighboring Austria, which was frequently used. Before the Second World War, Vienna’s Julius Meinl, a famous food retailer, purchased three to four wagons of pumpkin seed oil from Fram.
Pumpkin seed oil from Štajersko was especially popular with merchants from Graz and Leoben in Austria. The Fram oil was dispatched there through the Southern Railway from the local station.
By the early 1980s, oil producers started to use a special, locally grown variety of pumpkins. The buča golica (Cucurbita pepo var. Styriaca) swiftly replaced older varieties. The new pumpkin variety makes it possible to shorten the seed preparation process because its seeds are dried but not hulled.
The majority of Slovene pumpkin seed oil mills operate in Štajersko and Prekmurje, where Slovenes from the region of Porabje (in Hungary) take their pumpkins for processing.
Most of the pumpkin seed oil is now sold on the Slovene market. Even then, it is also exported to Austria, England, Ireland, and even the Baltic states, and Styria is a growing sellers’ market.
Pumpkin seed oil from Slovenia, called Štajersko-Prekmursko Pumpkin seed oil, has been protected by the European Union with the designation of Protected Geographical Indication since 2004.
Uses and Composition of Pumpkin Seed Oil
Pumpkin seed oil is known for its aromatic taste. The pumpkin seed oil has a long tradition in Slovenia. Most pumpkin oil is produced in Pomurje. In this part of Slovenia, pumpkin oil is also the most widespread and popular.
The process of producing pumpkin oil is time-consuming. If you want to do this yourself, you need to be aware that you need to be patient. You need to consider that for a 100 square meter large pumpkin plantation, you only need 50g of seeds.
The problem is that you only get 10 kg of dry pumpkin seeds from these pumpkins. From these 10 kilograms, you can squeeze only 4 liters of pumpkin oil.
Some pumpkin varieties must be shelled and the seeds roasted. Roasted seeds are the ones that give pumpkin oil its characteristic taste. Unroasted seed oil is lighter and less aromatic but works for cold-pressed oil.
Pumpkins and pumpkin seed oil are best known for their health effects. Among the old folk remedies, pumpkin oil is essential for eliminating intestinal parasites.
You can also make tea from pumpkin seeds, blueberry leaves, and valerian roots – beneficial for diabetics. Pumpkin meat as a compote is fantastic for healing irritated stomachs. Pumpkin oil is also great as a compress against varicose veins and helps with back pain.
Most importantly, the pumpkin seed oil is excellent, especially as a food supplement. It is best as a salad dressing or base for various gourmet sauces.
The extraction of oil from pumpkin seeds spread widely in Styria and Prekmurje in the 19th century. Ancestors valued pumpkins for their versatility in human and animal nutrition. Pumpkins were sown as an intermediate crop between sunflower and maize, both also used for oil.
In recent decades, however, people started planting pumpkins to harvest oil in pure crops and stay an integral part of the agricultural crop rotation. These pumpkin seeds are without a firm woody seed coat and do not need to be peeled.
The seed is coated only with thin skin so that the color of the inside of this skin shines on the outside, so the seed is typically olive to dark green. Ripe dried pumpkin seeds contain about 35 – 55% oil, 25-30% protein, 4-8% carbohydrates, 4-5% minerals, and trace elements (K, Ca, P, Mg, Fe, Cu, Mn, Zn, Se), vitamins, sterols, rare amino acids (citrulline, curcurbitin), natural dye (chlorophyll).
Understanding Traceability for Prekmurje Pumpkin Seed Oil
The area where pumpkin seeds are processed into Styrian Prekmurje pumpkin seed oil is located within the border running from Dravograd to Slovenj Gradec, Mislinja Velenje (here the border is the main road), Šoštanj, Mozirje, Nazarij, Vransko, Prebold, Zabukovica, and Laško.
From here, however, it takes place in the border along the Savinja and Sava rivers past Radeče, Sevnica, Krško, Brežice to Obrežje. It then goes along the state border with Croatia to the state border with Hungary.
From here, it goes along the state border with Hungary to the state border with Austria. It then goes along the Karavanke with Austria again to Dravograd. If you’re looking to trace where your pumpkin seed oil comes from, you want a locale around these areas.
Traceability is a must for Styrian Prekmurje pumpkin seed oil. Every manufacturer uses their packaging and label, but they must add something else. On the label or elsewhere on the packaging name, “Styrian Prekmurje pumpkin oil” with an indication of the country of origin (Slovenia) must be available.
The traceability should be written with the same font size and in the same field of vision as the protected name. It should also share the same protected color or black logo, “Styria Prekmurje pumpkin seed oil,” and the corresponding Community and/or national quality label.
How Can You Find Quality Pumpkin Seed Oil?
How do you recognize high-quality pumpkin seed oil? Much like wine and tea, tasting is the best way to judge the quality of pumpkin seed oil.
Every Slovenian pumpkin seed oil is given its very own, individual character by the roasting master. Therefore, quality is best recognized with the palate.
You want to make your palate as neutral as possible. Neutralize your mouth with a sip of water and some white bread.
Sip a small amount of pumpkin seed oil with a hard, slurping motion. Doing so will also suck in oxygen and create aromatic vapors in the mouth. Keep the pumpkin seed oil in your mouth, apply it to the palate by “chewing” it and rolling it.
Gather taste impressions with your tongue and palate. Not only the vintage of the oil pumpkin harvest plays a role, but also the origin of the pumpkin seeds.
Why Slovenian Pumpkin Seed Oil is Unique
Terroir is a French term that describes environmental factors that affect a crop’s characteristics. Terroir or generalized terrain and climate, including unique environment contexts, are crucial in pumpkin seed oil’s uniqueness.
The pumpkin seed oil tradition in Slovenia is unique. You can’t compare the pumpkin seed oil from its locale with other geographical locations. Their unique farming practices and a crop’s specific growth habitat helps with the taste and finish.
Much like wine, chocolate, coffee, hops, and maple, pumpkin seed oil changes its taste profile according to its terroir. This is where Slovenia’s locales are crucial.
Slovenian pumpkin seed oil should always come from the marked area of pumpkin seed processing into pumpkin seed oil. These are mainly covered by two provincial units, namely Pre-Alpine Slovenia and Sub-Pannonian Slovenia.
It is pre-Alpine Slovenia that covers the most extensive Slovenian landscape. It mostly stretches across the whole in a parallel direction with Slovenian national territory.
Due to its central and at the same time transitional position, it dominates the traffic cross of Slovenia. From the Isonzo Valley to the sub-Pannonian regions, they are in comprehensive contact and intertwined with the Dinaric Karst regions. They intertwine with the sub-Pannonian areas, especially in the Celje basin, however also in parts of Kozjansko.
Pre-Alpine Slovenia includes the Northeastern Pre-Alpine hills, also called Pohorsko Podravje, which is also partly part of the marked area. Pohorje Podravje belongs among the oldest Alpine regions and is mostly composed of gneiss, as well as limestone.
The Celje basin could be classified as a pre-alpine region, but because it is very strong in its continental climatic influences (from the east), this is a distinctly transitional type of landscape.
Pohorje, with its own power, is controlled by a good part of Northeastern Slovenia. The core of Pohorje consists of a giant granodiorite lacolite, which is exposed at the top, is surrounded by extensive metamorphic rocks.
These locales offer good weather and fantastic soil nutrition. The conditions allow for more seeds that produce more oil. Depending on the process, you’ll also taste superior nuttiness, earthiness, and a good, smooth swish in your mouth. There are no larger processing plants in Prekmurje, and farmers own only smaller plants.
One of them is Feri Vučak in Vadarci na Goričkem, whose mill-oil mill has been standing for over 130 years and in which the fourth generation is already working. People come to him to process pumpkin seeds into pumpkin oil from at least 30 villages in Prekmurje.
Another such processor in Prekmurje is Zorger Bela from Murska Sobota, which moved from Krplivnik in 1978 and is already the third generation to deal with pumpkin seed oil processing.
The Health Effects of Slovenian Pumpkin Seed Oil
The pumpkin seed oil has some substances that have been shown to have beneficial effects on health. We all appreciate pumpkin oil as an addition to salads or cold appetizers, which provides a great aroma. Pumpkin seed oil is aromatic and has a high value in terms of healthy eating and physiology. It contains a large part of essential fatty acids, a lot of vitamin E, and selenium.
Pumpkin seed oil is useful for preventing very common disease problems, and to aid in healing. The pumpkin seed oil has been shown to be especially useful in diseases of the bladder and urinary tract.
Unsaturated fatty acids in combination with other active ingredients have a positive effect on cholesterol metabolism. A very rare amino acid found in pumpkin seed oil, cucuritin, has a mild but reliable effect against tapeworms.
The high content of vitamins and minerals helps drain water, benefits the nerves, strengthens muscle and connective tissue, and generally normalizes cellular metabolism.
It should be noted that pumpkin oil has a high content of vitamin E, which inhibits the aging process and may even protect against angina pectoris and cancer.
The pumpkin seed oil has long been known in folk medicine, and more recently, research by official medicine and pharmacologists has confirmed this experiential knowledge at many points. Pumpkin seed oil is therefore great for our health, and it is a tasty addition to meals, so it makes sense to use it as often as possible.
Numerous scientific findings confirm the healing properties of pumpkin seeds and pumpkin oil. The healing effects of the pumpkin seed oil are shown in benign prostatic hyperplasia, where delta-7-sterols regulate and alleviate symptoms.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids in combination with other active ingredients positively affect cholesterol metabolism. A very rare amino acid found in pumpkin seeds and in pumpkin seed oil, cucurbitin, has a mild but reliable effect against worms.
A high content of vitamins and minerals in pumpkin oil helps to drain water. It benefits the nerves, strengthens muscles and connective tissue. It also normalizes cellular metabolism.
Special emphasis should be placed on high content vitamin E in oil. Vitamin E inhibits the aging process and may even protect against angina pectoris and cancer. Folk medicine has long known the healing powers of pumpkin oil.
Preparation of Pumpkin Seed Oil In Food
The pumpkin seed oil has played an important role in the everyday and festive diet of the Slovene population. This tradition was more prevalent in Styria and the regions of Pomurje and Porabje for two and a half centuries.
In addition to the new pumpkin seed oil production method, Slovene cuisine has over the last decade introduced several recipes that use pumpkin seed oil for food preparation in novel and previously unknown ways.
Pumpkin seed oil was predominantly used for seasoning salads, legumes, and root crop dishes in the past. Today, chefs from North-East Slovenia have prepared recipes for new main dishes and desserts with pumpkin seed oil.
These dishes are a welcome addition to the established culinary offering in this area. It contributes to a broader selection for visitors of the region.
New pumpkin seed oil dishes worth mentioning include:
- fried trout in pumpkin seed oil sauce
- pumpkin seed and pumpkin seed oil spread
- pumpkin seed oil pasta
- pumpkin cream soup with pumpkin seeds
- pumpkin seed oil and bread with pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil
Nowadays, it has become prevalent to use pumpkin seed oil in desserts. It is something new in Slovene cuisine as pumpkin seed oil in the past had been used solely for salads and main dishes.
Vanilla ice cream with pumpkin seed oil is also a trendy dessert these days, as are pumpkin seed oil rolls, cakes, and cookies. Restaurants and tourist centers serve new pumpkin seed oil dishes in the Prekmurje region and in Styria now. Some of the oil mills selling pumpkin seed oil have also started to sell new products with this oil.
The Kocbek oil mill has started making chocolate with pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil. They also sell pasta, as well as cookies, with added pumpkin seed oil. Recently, people have also started to discover the healing effects of pumpkin seed oil, which has positively affected sales in Slovenia and abroad.
Novel Preparations of Pumpkin Seed Oil
The pumpkin seed oil has also spurred some new practices over the last two decades with regards to its production in oil mills and its use in contemporary cuisine. These practices represent an incentive for the local economy.
The introduction of golica, a new pumpkin sort, has drastically changed the traditional production of pumpkin seed oil as well as its typical color, flavor, and quality.
A simpler and shorter way of preparing pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil has encouraged the abolishment of what was once a common and widespread farming activity: scraping out pumpkin seeds, drying them, and shelling them during winter evenings.
Today, the preparation of pumpkin seeds from the golica pumpkin takes far less time and effort, and it does not require as much teamwork. The procedure for roasting pumpkin seeds to extract oil has seen major changes in the last ten years in accordance with European and Slovene laws.
The seeds are no longer roasted at temperatures above 100 degrees Celsius. Due to growing interest among European and domestic consumers in cold-pressed vegetable oils, pumpkin seed oil producers have tried to find the recipe for extracting pumpkin seed oil via low-temperature seed roasting, i.e., cold-pressed oil production.
The Kocbek foil mill in Stara Gora, near Sveti Jurij ob Ščavnici, is at the forefront of these endeavors and new pumpkin seed oil production methods in Slovenia.
Their method involves pumpkin seed roasting at just 40 degrees Celsius. This preserves a higher mineral, microelement, and vitamin content in the pumpkin seed oil.
Because of lower temperature seed roasting, the oil has a different, lighter color and a subtler flavor. It is offered as a gastronomic specialty in the finest restaurants and shops in Slovenia and abroad.
The pumpkin seed oil tradition in Slovenia is one of its oldest and most enduring traditions. It represents what Slovenes are all about: their rise from obscurity towards globalization. As pumpkin seed oil rose from a regional product, Slovenia is advancing towards a global destination.
If you find yourself visiting Slovenia, get a taste of its pumpkin seed oil. Taste something new and discover the outstanding health properties of Slovenia’s most traditional product.
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