May 25, 2018
hemp seeds

Types of Edible Seeds

by Berkeley Wellness  

Seeds, like nuts, are rich in healthy fats, as well as many nutrients. The most popular edible seeds in the United States are pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, eaten as snacks. But there are many varieties of seeds to try. Here are some you may find in stores.

Chiaseeds: Like flaxseed, chia seeds form a natural mucilage (a type of soluble fiber) when wet. In cooking, this translates to a good thickener, and therefore chia seeds are a great addition to smoothies, soups, or pasta sauces. Used by Aztec warriors as a source of energy on long marches, chia seeds are high in alpha-linolenic acid and fiber and are a complete source of protein (supplying all essential amino acids).

Egusi seeds: In West Africa, egusi melons are a subspecies of the watermelon. Their seeds have a high oil content, and West Africans grind the seeds into a meal that they use to thicken and flavor stews. Like pumpkin seeds, egusi seeds are generally sold in their hulls.

Flaxseed: Flaxseed supplies alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid. They make a great addition to baked goods or can be sprinkled on yogurt. See Flaxseed.

Hemp seeds: Hemp seeds (and the oil pressed from them) are high in unsaturated fats, including ALA. Hemp is the same plant as Cannabis sativa, from which marijuana is made. But certain species can be bred and grown for seeds and oil, rather than for the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Hemp seeds have traces of THC, but not enough to produce a high. Still, hemp remains an illegal crop in some states in the United States, though hemp seeds and oil are a legal import, provided the seeds have been heat-treated to prevent germination. Roasted hemp seeds make a nice snack. See Hemp Seeds in Food.

Jackfruit seeds: The seeds of the immense jackfruit are huge: 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches long and 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. There may be from 100 to 500 seeds in a single jackfruit. The seeds have a starchy flesh not unlike chestnuts and must be boiled first and then roasted. They are often sold sweetened and canned.

Lotus seeds: The small, round white seeds of the lotus plant are most often sold as a canned, sweetened paste in Chinese markets. The paste is one of the classic fillings for Chinese moon cakes.

Papaya seeds: Most people scoop out papaya seeds and discard them, but they are edible. These glossy black seeds resemble peppercorns and have a spicy, pepper-like flavor that’s been compared to nasturtium and watercress. Rinse the seeds well and use them as a garnish, or dry them and grind them in a blender or food processor to the consistency of coarse ground pepper for use as a seasoning.

Poppy seeds: The poppy’s botanical name, Papaver somniferum, hints at the plant’s unfortunate narcotic associations, but the milky sap that produces opium is long gone by the time the plant produces tiny seeds (each flower has about 30,000 of them). In addition to the plant’s history as a drug, its nutty-tasting, blue-black seeds have a longstanding culinary history, too. In fact, the Romans made something similar to the sesame-based candy called halvah (see below) by roasting the seeds, mixing them with honey, and forming them into “candy” bars. And in Middle European cultures, poppy seeds were—and still are—ground and sweetened and used as a pastry filling called mohn (which actually just means poppy in German). In Indian markets you can findwhite poppyseeds, which Indian cooks use as a thickener. Use poppy seeds on top of baked goods, kneaded into bread dough as Greek cooks do, or ground with other spices to make a rich curry powder.

Pumpkin seeds: Pumpkins not only generously yield their flesh for delicious pies and their firm rinds for jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween, but these remarkable orbs also give us seeds that can be roasted. Roasted pumpkin seeds have a rich, almost peanut-like flavor and can be eaten as snacks or added to salads, soups, and casseroles. Pumpkin seeds can also be ground and used to make sauces. A by-product of pumpkin seeds is a flavorful salad oil. See Pumpkin Seeds 101.

Sesame seeds: These tiny oval seeds, which grow on a tall annual plant, are basic to many of the world’s cuisines, including those of Africa, India, and China. Dark sesame oil is a staple cooking ingredient in Asia. And tahini, a spread similar to peanut butter, is known as the “butter of the Middle East.” Sesame seeds are also ground, mixed with honey, and formed into huge blocks for a Middle Eastern candy called halvah (although this term, which just means “candy,” is also applied to similar mixtures made with various grains and nuts instead of sesame seeds). Sesame seeds were brought to America with the slave trade, and are still used in several popular Southern recipes where they are called “benne seeds.” Their most familiar use in this country is as a topping on breads, buns, and rolls. You can buy hulled or unhulled sesame seeds. The unhulled seeds, which are darker in color, have the bran intact and are an excellent source of iron and phosphorus. There are also black sesame seeds, but they are smaller and somewhat more bitter.

Squash seeds: In addition to pumpkin seeds, other squash (and even melons) have seeds that are extremely tasty. Squash grown specifically for their seeds are often different from the plants grown for their vegetables. Growers reduce the space between the plants because the size of the fruit is of secondary concern.

Sunflower seeds: Sunflower seeds come from the center of the magnificent, daisy-like flower of the familiar North American sunflower plant. Named because its flowers resemble the sun, and because they twist on their stems to follow the sun throughout the day, this imposing plant can grow as tall as 10 feet. See Sunflower Seeds: Vitamin E with a Crunch.

Watermelon seeds: Watermelon seeds are a favorite in China and the Middle East, where they’re eaten like sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. These seeds come from melons grown specifically for their seeds and are much larger than the seeds you find in watermelon cultivated to be eaten as a fruit.