The Charm of Austrian Pumpkin Seed Oil


Photo by Diego Cupolo/Flickr CC

It's not easy to find pumpkin seed oil in the States. But in tiny Jennersdorf, Austria, it's so common that local grocery stores don't even carry it. Instead, during irregular afternoon hours, one heads to a barn a few blocks from the town center -- already at the edge of this 4,000-person village -- where an old man and his son run an antiquated oil press. For about 10 euros a liter, they'll fill a glass bottle with freshly pressed oil, slap a sticker on it, and send you on your way.

Pumpkin seed oil isn't quite so obscure, but it's still more obscure than it deserves to be.

I lived in Jennersdorf for a year after college, teaching English at the local Gymnasium. Southeastern Austria -- Jennersdorf is about three miles from the Hungarian border, and about 10 from Croatia -- is a strange, still largely isolated place, one of those corners of Europe where the procession of rail, telephone, television, and Internet connections has yet to erode local traditions. A nearby sausage factory once produced the world's longest wurst, and, in a ceremony too complex to explain in a blog post, I once saw a man married, in a public square, to a tree.

In Jennersdorf, local foods are still quite literally local foods: There are wine varieties, like the rose-tinted uhudler, rarely found outside the region. Pumpkin seed oil isn't quite so obscure, but it's still more obscure than it deserves to be. Its obscurity is party due to its utility, or lack thereof: Unlike other seed oils, you don't cook with it -- heat destroys its delicate fatty-acid content -- and its robust flavor often makes it hard to use in recipes. Nor does it keep very well; about six months after opening, it starts to turn rancid.

But as a dressing for salad or vegetables, the dark-green oil is sublime. It has a strong but balanced nuttiness, and despite its slick texture, the flavor is not at all oily. My favorite is to put it on thoroughly boiled potatoes or fresh tomatoes. Some people put it on vanilla ice cream or mix it with yogurt. For a dressing, use it alone, or combine it with a few teaspoons of honey, olive oil, or apple cider vinegar.

I've never seen pumpkin seed oil for sale in the States, but there are a few domestic producers. And if you happen to be in Germany, seek out a dallmayr shop; this Bavarian fine-foods store carries a lot of Austrian specialties, including pumpkin seed oil (about $10 for a quarter liter). There's a well-stocked outlet of the gourmet department store Dallmayr in the Munich airport as well.

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Clay Risen is an editor at The New York Times, and is the author of A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination. He has written for The New Republic, Smithsonian, and The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

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