Conscious Guide to Seeds

In the past decade or so, there has been a sudden increase in talk about seeds and their virtues vis-à-vis our diet. “Omega 3 fatty acids” is a term that has only recently entered our vocabulary. All of the seeds now spoken about have, however, been part of our traditional food cultures for several centuries, recognized by ancient medicine as well as grandmothers for their various benefits. Here is a mini seed primer to help us better understand the value of seeds and a few ideas for their usage:

Sesame

This tiny seed came to India from Africa, and was then widely domesticated. Evidence of sesame seeds used in cooking has been found even in the Indus Valley Civilization ruins dating back to more than 4000 years ago! Sesame seeds form an important part of Hindu religious rituals as well, with specific uses listed for white and black Til. It has since been used extensively in the cooking of vegetables (in combination with other spices to make a thickener or spice base), with rice, and of course, with jaggery. Chikki, Til patti, Puliyogare, and Goda Masala are examples of such traditional foods. Sesame is a good vegetarian source of protein, and should therefore, be included in vegetarian and vegan diets in as many ways as possible. It is also high in magnesium, which makes it a diabetes-friendly ingredient, while also nourishing skin and hair.

How to use

Keep a jar of unpolished, lightly toasted sesame seeds handy. Powder them and add them to thicken curries. Make a jar of Tahini and use it as a base for salad dressings and dips such as Hummus. Sprinkle it on noodles for added crunch.  

Flax

Flax seeds were once cultivated primarily for their oil, but with the increase in popularity of peanut and soya bean oils, the demand for flax seed oil dropped drastically. The other way in which flax seeds were consumed were in the form of dried chutneys; very often, these were eaten after a meal as a digestive! This Omega 3 fatty acid-rich ingredient is also great to use in vegetarian or vegan bakes in the form of flours as the stickiness emulates the texture of egg whites and helps give the product shape.

How to use

Sprinkle flax seeds on your smoothie bowls or add powdered flax seeds to the smoothie itself. Coarsely grind flax seeds with toasted dried coconut, garlic, chilies, and cumin seeds to make a dry chutney; use this to add flavour to regular bread and butter or eat alongside millet rotis with a dollop of unsalted butter.

Sunflower

Sunflower seeds are excellent carriers of the fat-soluble Vitamin E; and this makes them a great choice for skin and hair health. They are also known to be beneficial for dealing with inflammation, diabetes and heart health. There are two types of sunflower seeds—large, black and white striped seeds, which are harvested from large sunflower heads, primarily for oil pressing, and smaller, peeled grey-green seeds, which can be lightly toasted and eaten.

How to use

Add toasted sunflower seeds to granola mixes and bars, sprinkle over salads or even make a sunflower seed butter (use any peanut butter recipe as a starting point)!

Pumpkin

Anybody who grew up in the India before processed food took over supermarkets will remember little plates of pumpkin seeds scooped out of their vegetable bowls and left in the sun to dry and toast up. These were eaten as a small in-between snack, peeled and eaten raw or toasted and salted. Pumpkin seeds are packed with healthy fats, magnesium and zinc, providing protection against some cancers and risk of heart disease. They can also help in reducing blood sugar levels.

How to use

Eat a handful of pumpkin seeds lightly toasted in a basic tadka as a trail mix. Sprinkle plain toasted pumpkin seeds on a bowl of creamy soup for texture.

Niger

Niger seeds are also an important oil seed, which came to India from Africa. In Maharashtra and southern India, they are eaten in the form of chutneys, used to make spice mixes for curries, and are used in home remedies for colds and inflammation.

How to use

Toast slightly and make a dry chutney using garlic and chilies.

Sabja

The Indian cousin of Chia seeds, Sabja seeds are from the same plant family but distinct (and cheaper) in their flavour and properties. An essential component of Falooda, they are known for their cooling properties and digestive powers. They are also low-carb and high-protein seeds, making these low calorie and nutrition dense seeds a suitable choice for weight watchers.

How to use

Sprinkle over smoothies for an extra crunch or soak and add to a glass of milk, flavoured water or lemonade.  

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