Toru Hirasaki, the young president of Wassamu Seeds in Hokkaido, created a farm and processing plant to harvest the seeds from a new variety of pumpkin developed right in his town of Wassamu. In the process, he helped introduce the culture of enjoying pumpkin seeds to the country of Japan.
What is a “hull-less” pumpkin seed?
If you have ever carved a pumpkin and roasted the seeds you scooped out, you may have noticed that the seeds have a hard, outer shell. That is the “hull” of the pumpkin seed and the seeds of many pumpkins, prized for their flesh or appearance, need to be shelled before eating.
A few pumpkin varieties are treasured for their hull-less (or “naked”) seeds, meaning that the seeds can be simply washed, roasted, and eaten without any shelling.
Hull-less Striped Pepo Pumpkin Developed in Hokkaido!
One of those hull-less varieties – the Striped Pepo pumpkin – was specially bred and developed right in the town of Wassamu in Hokkaido, where Wassamu Seeds is based.
Wassumu is a small town with a population of just 3,600 people located in the northern part of Hokkaido. The main industry is agriculture, especially pumpkins. Wassamu is the number one producer of pumpkins in all of Japan. The town holds a special “Pumpkin Festival” every year.
Aside from producing the most pumpkins in Japan, pumpkins farmers in Wassamu are also committed to refining their technologies to create new varieties. In 2012, working with researchers, pumpkin farmers in the area developed a new pumpkin Cucurbita pepo (or “Striped Pepo”) with hull-less seeds by crossing two other existing pumpkin varieties.
The resulting Striped Pepo pumpkin has striking green stripes set against its orange skin, creating a beautiful display. The pumpkin is most prized for its scrumptious seeds, which are packed with healthy oils and are surrounded by only a thin membrane, which does not need to be removed before eating. In addition to producing larger seeds, striped Pepo pumpkins also produce more seeds than another popular hull-less seed variety called “Fukutane.” Each Striped Pepo pumpkin can produce up to 600 seeds!
Nurturing Hokkaido’s Pumpkin Seed Industry
After graduating from college, Toru Hirasaki came to Hokkaido to work at the pumpkin farm owned by his wife’s family. He saw the potential of pumpkin seeds to be enjoyed in Japan.
Compared to almonds, seeds from Striped Pepo pumpkins have twice the amount of iron and zinc. Plus, the seeds are packed with healthy oils. The large size of the seeds produced by Striped Pepo pumpkins means that the seeds can be eaten more like nuts, rather than small seeds.
At first, Toru Hirasaki encountered many challenges. He did not originally have a background in farming, instead he had worked in processing, sales, and business management. Also, Striped Pepo pumpkins are difficult to grow. Due to their large size, the pumpkins require extra growing time compared to common pumpkins, so they must be planted in late May when there is still the possibility of frost damage. Since pumpkins seeds are not widely produced in Japan, Toru Hirasaki also had to experiment with how to harvest, process, package, and ship pumpkins seeds. With their high oil content, pumpkin seeds can easily go rancid, requiring special care in handling and vacuum sealing the seeds as quickly as possible.
Even after overcoming all the challenges of producing a high quality, delicious pumpkin seed product, Toru Hirasaki struggled to market and sell his pumpkin seeds in Japan. Pumpkins seeds are not widely eaten in Japan or used in Japanese cuisine. So people were unfamiliar with the seeds and were not sure how to enjoy them. Toru Hirasaki worked hard to share the delicious flavor of pumpkin seeds.
Now, Striped Pepo pumpkins are grown by 13 producers in Hokkaido. At Wassamu Seeds, Toru Hirasaki has created a centralized production center. Contracted farmers in the town deliver their crops of pumpkins and Toru Hirasaki performs all the necessary steps to prepare the seeds for sale from storing the pumpkins to sorting the seeds to roasting and bagging by hand.
Thanks to Toru Hirasaki’s efforts, the special Hokkaid-bred Striped Pepo pumpkin is now grown by more and more farmers in Hokkaido. Pumpkin seeds have also gained a new popularity in Japan, and have become widely known for their delicious nutty flavor and healthy properties.
Learn more about Wassamu Seeds at https://wassamu-seeds.com/