Why You're About To See Protein-Packed Watermelon Seeds Everywhere

© Photo: Getty Images / Carina König / EyeEm watermelon seeds Do you remember that old saying in childhood that if you swallowed watermelon seeds, they would grow in your stomach? Well, as it turns out, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, this oft-neglected part of everyone’s favorite hydration-friendly fruit is actually a standout ingredient from both a health and environmental perspective.

While all watermelon seeds are edible, different varieties serve different purposes. The black, hard variety you might be most familiar with is best eaten roasted and salted, similar to a pumpkin seed, whereas some less common heirloom varieties are actually grown for their seed, not their flesh. Their softer, whiter seeds are perfect for making into flours and seed butters.

Indeed, there is a whole world of watermelon seed products out there that can help with everything from providing you with plant-based protein to increasing the security of our food system. Here’s everything you need to know about watermelon seeds according to experts.

Benefits of watermelon seeds

While watermelon seeds may be physically small, they cram in plenty of nutritional benefits. “One serving of watermelon seeds (or watermelon seed flour) has more than five percent of the daily value of magnesium, 26 percent the daily value of zinc, almost 15 percent the daily need of iron, plus heart-healthy omega-3s,” says Rhyan Geiger, RD, owner of Phoenix Vegan Dietitian.

There are a few different ways to eat watermelon seeds (more on that later), one of which is ground up into a flour. So how does the nutritional profile of watermelon seed profile compare to other popular wheat flour-alternatives like almond and coconut? According to Geiger, watermelon seed flour comes out on top. Compared to almond flour, watermelon seed flour has more protein, iron, and zinc. Coconut flour contains less protein than watermelon seed flour, too. Depending on what your nutritional goals are, this may be a new star ingredient for your pantry.

Watermelon seeds help support crop diversity and promote soil health

“Currently, only four crops account for more than 50 percent of all crops grown worldwide,” says Emily Lafferty, Senior Manager of Strategic Sourcing at Simple Mills. This lack of diversity in our crops means that we are creating a food system that is fundamentally insecure. If this is a new concept for you, think back to your history classes about the Irish potato famine, which was caused by an overreliance on one or two types of high-yielding potato varieties. When blight hit, the lack of genetic variety in the tuber population meant that it took out the main food source for the entire country. By relying on mass production of corn, soy, and wheat on large swaths of farmland across our country, we are putting ourselves at similar risk for uncontrollable pest invasions, as well as weakening the soil biome by giving it only one food source.

The situation is not hopeless, though, and there is a big role for food companies to play in helping shape the future of our soil health and food security—especially if they’re willing to get creative. Incorporating new crops like watermelon seeds in place of overgrown traditional grains (looking at you, wheat and corn) allows companies to begin to create more demand for biodiversity on farms. Even other popular alternative flours like almond are questionable from a sustainability perspective due to their reliance on large amounts of water in the growing process. “By seeking out more diverse ingredients for our products—like using watermelon seeds as flour—and partnering with farmers and supplies who incorporate practices that prioritize soil health, we aim to leave the land in better shape for future generations,” says Lafferty.

This was the impetus behind Simple Mills’ new line of Sweet Thins ($5), a lightly-sweetened snack cracker made from an alternative flour blend that includes watermelon seed flour. “We directly contracted crop production of this species with a farmer in Ontario, helping drive the increased adoption of climate smart practices on his farm, including multi-species cover crop plantings and no-till planting methods,” explains Lafferty. “By using watermelon seed, we are ultimately driving demand for increased crop diversity and fostering climate and pest resiliencies.” All that consumers will really know is that the crackers are delicious—the environmental impact is just an added benefit.

How to eat watermelon seeds

1. Eat them by the handful

You can eat watermelon seeds raw, but they are much more enjoyable when roasted or dehydrated. There are a growing number of companies selling packaged watermelon seeds, including the delicious sprouted varieties from Go Raw ($15) which further increases the bioavailability of the nutrients inside. Dried watermelon seeds taste a bit like sunflower seeds with a slightly milder taste, which makes them the perfect topper for salads and smoothies.

Geiger recommends mixing up a homemade trail mix with ¼ cup roasted watermelon seeds, ¼ cup pumpkin seeds, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 2 tablespoons of dried fruit, and 2 ounces almonds or cashews.

2. Use ground watermelon seeds as an alternative flour

You can expect to see products with watermelon flour start to pop up on shelves more as people catch on to its powerful nutritional profile and allergen-friendly makeup. If you’re interested in testing out some recipes at home, you can purchase watermelon seed flour ($19) or grind up the raw seeds on your own in a coffee grinder to make a fine flour. Just make sure to grind up packaged seeds, not just the ones you pick out of your watermelon slice, as they need to be properly dehydrated in order to avoid getting clumpy.

3. Blend them up into a seed butter

Another way to reap the protein-rich benefits of watermelon seeds is to eat them in seed butter form, similar to tahini with its mild and earthy flavor but with a slightly thinner and creamier texture. Watermelon seed butter can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, making it a versatile pantry staple. Again, you could try making watermelon seed butter at home out of roasted or dehydrated seeds, or you can save yourself the labor and try 88 Acres sweetened and unsweetened varieties ($27 for 2). Try adding watermelon seed butter to smoothies, spreading on toast, or making a sesame-free hummus.

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