Filipino Seed Snacks
Dried seeds are old-time favorite Filipino snacks. Fun and addictive to snack on, satisfying one’s oral fixations, unshelled seeds boast a fairly low “calorie to bite” ratio — what with the amount of effort involved in carefully extracting each seed’s kernel from out of the shell. In terms of nutritional value, seeds run a close second to traditional nuts as a source of potassium, manganese and zinc.
WATERMELON SEEDS (BUTONG PAKWAN)
Among many Filipinos’ fondest memories is gathering around a bowl of dried watermelon seeds with a piece of old newspaper on hand ready to be piled with discarded shells. Parents and older relatives take on the task of cracking open the buto (“seed”) for young children who have yet to develop the skill of extracting the kernels as whole as possible.
Snacking on butong pakwan happens when family and friends are just hanging out, chatting or watching television. It’s a great “busy food” to give bored hands something to do. The ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia are known to do this type of snacking over the Lunar New Year or during a funeral wake. The seed-eating session usually only ends once you’ve run out of seeds or your lips and tongue have become too painfully sore from the salt.
Butong pakwan does have a distinctive flavor beyond mere saltiness, brought about by the addition of sanki, which is star anise (Illicium verum), and it is not uncommon to find one or two of the beautifully desiccated anise flowers still mixed in among the black seeds, providing a subtly sweet enhancement. Watermelon seeds come in packets that are sometimes labeled simply as “melon” seeds.
Popular Filipino and Fil-American brands include Captain Sid’s, Paning’s, Aling Conching and Tropics.
SQUASH / PUMPKIN SEEDS (BUTO NG KALABASA)
Outside the Philippines, pumpkin seeds have become a common snack food and are even sold already shelled. Filipinos refer to them as buto ng kalabasa although the calabaza squash is a different variety of gourd from the American pumpkin.
The kalabasa popularly grown in the Philippines is Cucurbita moschata, a species that likely originated in Central America and was brought over to the islands during the Spanish colonial period. The pumpkin more commonly seen in the United States is the species known as Cucurbita pepo.
The shape of squash seeds, particularly those of larger sizes, makes them ideal to be fed into a mechanical seed dehuller. That is why squash seeds are not infrequently sold already shelled. The only other seasoning usually added to buto ng kalabasa during processing is plain salt.
Aling Conching is a known Philipine brand of squash seeds (buto ng kalabasa).
Helianthus or sunflowers are native not to Asia, but to the Americas. As a snack though, sunflower seeds have acquired worldwide popularity, including in the Philippines (though still nowhere near the local popularity of watermelon or squash seeds in the country). These are called semechki in Russia!
The small grayish-green or black kernels encased in teardrop-shaped gray or black shells with black and white stripes are a nutritional powerhouse, with high amounts of protein, dietary fiber, Vitamin E and Vitamin B, particularly folate. The seeds also contain substantial amounts of magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, iron and zinc. Most of the fat in sunflower seeds is polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, which are the healthiest types of fat for the heart.
Sunflower seeds are not only eaten as a healthy snack, but are also used as garnishing or ingredients in various dishes. The seeds may be sold as intact inside their shells or as dehulled kernels. In-shell seeds are processed by first drying them, then later roasting or dusting with salt for flavor preservation. Rather than extracting the kernel with their hands, eaters often crack the hull with their teeth.
Countries known as top producers of sunflower seeds are Ukraine, Russia, Argentina and China. A famous brand of sunflower seed snacks is ChaCha, which has its environment-friendly farms in Inner Mongolia, part of the northern Chinese area. The ChaCha company slowly bakes the sunflower seeds to bring out their natural aroma. They produce interesting variants beyond the plain seeds, including one with spices and another with coconut flavor.
Not nuts, but members of the legume family, broad beans are a prime source of vitamins, protein and carbohydrates. In the United States, they are known as fava beans.
Broad beans are among the oldest plants in cultivation. For most snacking purposes, they are dried and then fried. The shell is a little tough because it’s so fibrous, but it’s precisely that which delivers a large amount of dietary fiber. Eaters whose mouths crave crunchiness will enjoy these fried beans.