Seeds are the means by which most plants reproduce. They contain a dense concentration of nutrients and essential oils that will be used by the new plants when and if the seeds get the opportunity to germinate.
Although there are many foods we eat that are technically seeds—beans, peas, most nuts, and all grains—some seeds fall into a separate category defined more by their culinary use than anything else. These are loosely called edible seeds. These seeds tend to be smaller—think of a sesame seed compared with a kidney bean—and have a higher proportion of fat. In fact, many seeds are used primarily for their oils, such as safflower oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil.
Though they are small, edible seeds can offer a substantial amount of flavor, texture, and nutritional benefits.
Seeds offer a rich reservoir of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. And there is a moderate amount of protein in seeds, though the protein doesn’t contain all the essential amino acids needed to make a complete protein.
Because of their fat content, seeds should be eaten in moderation, though it is noteworthy that the type of fats in seeds is primarily healthful polyunsaturated fats. For example, flaxseed provides a beneficial type of fat called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. ALA is one of the essential fatty acids. That means we must consume it in foods, because our bodies cannot manufacture it. The other commonly consumed seeds, such as sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, also provide important nutrients, such as vitamin E and iron.
For a full list of nutrients, check the National Nutrient Database:
How to buy and store edible seeds
Since most seeds are high in fat and subject to rancidity, buy seeds that are stored out of direct sunlight and away from other sources of heat. If buying in bulk, be sure that you are shopping at a store that does a brisk turnover.
Seeds will keep for several months at room temperature in a cool, dry place, but it’s best to keep them in the refrigerator so they don’t turn rancid. Or keep them in the freezer, where they will last a year or more.
How to prepare seeds
Most seeds taste better if they are toasted before you eat or cook with them. Seeds can be toasted on the stovetop or in the oven. The cooking time will depend on the type of seeds and their fat content.
5 ways to serve edible seeds
- Top a salad with a sprinkling of toasted seeds.
- Stir toasted seeds and minced chives into yogurt cheese for a bagel or sandwich spread.
- Combine sesame seeds with breadcrumbs and use as a coating for baked fishor poultry.
- Stir a spoonful of sesame butter (tahini) into a vegetable soup to enrich and thicken it.
- Knead poppy seeds into homemade pasta dough.
Published May 27, 2016