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 sanque, 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 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.