The Slovenia Times

Pumpkinseed oil, from niche local product to top of the world

Industry & Agriculture

Until this day, northeastern Slovenia, in particular the regions of Prlekija and Prekmurje, has remained dotted with small, family-operated pumpkinseed oil mills. While most of them are not widely known, one has been making a name for itself across the globe for years.

Like its peers, Oljarna Kocbek has remained meticulous about its flagship product, swearing by the traditional method. But when the new generation took over, an ambitious plan was forged for the future.

Today, you can enjoy Kocbek pumpkin seed oil in a number of fine dining restaurants, including in Atmosphere, on the 122nd floor of Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest skyscraper.

Moreover, the renowned US chef Peter Kelly discovered Kocbek pumpkin seed oil alongside the Piran sea salt while vacationing in Venice years ago and started using them in his restaurants.

From humble origins to fine dining

Launched in 1929 by Alojz Kocbek, the family business is now in the hands of Alojz's grandson Gorazd Kocbek. His team of staff uses the same processing method as his grandfather and father did before him. But Gorazd adopted a rather different approach to marketing.

It was not easy to make it abroad. "You have to be very proactive, network and make connections in culinary circles. Every market is specific and the process takes time. We had been striving to make it in Dubai for a long time before we saw success." Then, Luxury Black Bottle edition drew the attention of Arab clients and opened the door to Atmosphere.

"Except for one instance, we made it onto foreign markets by word of mouth or because somebody had tried our oils, was impressed and we started collaborating," said Gorazd Kocbek.

Building a name

"Compared to olive oil, which is known across the globe, pumpkinseed oil is specific," said Kocbek. Pumpkinseed oil is still building its reputation.

"It has been proven that pumpkinseed oil has healing properties. There have been a number of studies proving this. One of the best known findings is that pumpkinseed oil helps with prostate function. It is also very rich in Vitamin E, helps with urinary tract infections in women etc."

To help build the oil's reputation, Oljarna Kocbek has been organising a variety of events, from oil-making experiences, to tastings and guided tours. In June it will be hosting a culinary experience led by the renowned chef Georges Chihane.

Tradition and quality are key

The oil mill is sourcing pumpkin seeds exclusively from local suppliers with whom they have long-standing relationships. "Pumpkins cannot be grown in the same field year after year and we do not grow our own. Instead, we buy from local growers and from growers in Dravsko Polje, Prekmurje and Apaška Kotlina."

Oljarna Kocbek increased its capacities in the past two years, renovating and expanding the old mill to gain additional storage space and a new shop. "Today, we have a renovated oil mill with machines that are over hundred years old, because the motto we live by is preserving tradition and quality," said Gorazd Kocbek.

Product portfolio of a pumpkin patch

Currently, the company is focused on expanding its product portfolio. Apart from pumpkinseed oil, it has been making chocolate, soap, salami and pasta for a while.

And now, "we are just about to launch two new products: pumpkin chips, which is made exclusively of pumpkinseeds and is a very healthy and tasty snack, and a pumpkin and pumpkinseed gin, a collaboration with the brand Heaven&Hell."


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