Nuts are the stars of the superfood snacking scene — certifiably touted as fantastic alternatives to sugary or carb-heavy packaged snacks. But seeds are still unsung, despite the fact they contain similar amounts of fiber, protein, calcium, vitamin E, healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids — and they’re absolutely delicious. But seeds are tricky to snack on, and unless you’re the type of person to eat handfuls of tiny seeds to sate your cravings, they’re best used as ingredients in other dishes.
Ready to work seeds in? Here are the whats, hows, whys and wheres of cooking with seeds.
If you recall from elementary science class, seeds (whether they’re tomato seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds or apple seeds) are the reproductive parts of a flowering plant. The plants produce flowers and fruits that contain the seeds, and the seeds contain all of the vital nutrients necessary for new plants to grow. All of this incredible nutrition is available to us when we eat the seeds as well, if we consume them properly.
It may be obvious, but worth saying: Seeds are also not nuts, often making them more digestible to those with nut allergies. A nut is actually a dry fruit with a hard shell, and typically that nut contains a seed. Seeds, however, contain a small plant and all of the nutrients needed to sprout that plant and are contained in a seed coat rather than a hard shell. Again, it’s this tiny plant and its nutrients that benefit us when we consume them.
WHY COOK WITH SEEDS?
Seeds are excellent sources of fiber, healthy fats, minerals and vitamins. If you consider that seeds contain all of the vital ingredients to help new little plants sprout from the ground, their vitality makes a lot of sense. Sprinkling them on your dishes, snacking and blending them into smoothies, butters and soups helps give a natural boost to everything you cook and eat. In short, they have incredible nutritional value.
HOW TO COOK WITH SEEDS?
Seeds are pretty magical in the kitchen and they can do a lot. Blend soaked seeds and make hummus or seed butter to spread on toast as an alternative to peanut or almond butter. By soaking seeds then blending them and discarding the solids, you can also make a nutritious dairy milk alternative to use in soups, stews, teas, baked goods, etc.
Seeds are also an excellent source of protein, so blending them with beans makes a delicious spread. Lastly, seeds are an easy, crunchy addition to your next salad or grain bowl for lunch, making your meal more appetizing. Even though seeds are not nuts, they can be used interchangeably with nuts in many cases.
The nutrients available in seeds are more bioavailable and digestible when seeds are soaked for 7 hours or overnight, but once they’re soaked and allowed to dry, the sky’s the limit in terms of their use. They add wonderful flavors and textures to nearly any dish, will grind well into seed butters and are a lovely addition to anything you may be baking or that could use a sprinkling of color, flavor and texture.
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Here are a few of the most popular (and healthful) seeds out there and how to use them:
Chia seeds: Similar to flax seeds, chia seeds are an excellent sources of fiber, omega-3 fats and other nutrients. Chia seeds are highly absorbent and have the capacity to absorb three times their weight in liquid, making them easier to digest when bloomed (or soaked for a brief time in any liquid.) Chia seeds are excellent to make pudding, add to baked goods as a binder, smoothies or juices
Flax seeds: Also known as linseeds, flax seeds are a terrific source of fiber, omega-3 fats and alpha-linolenic acid. However, the healthy fats in these little seeds are present in the fibrous outer shell of the seed, which humans don’t digest easily. For that reason, flax seeds are best eaten as ground flax, which can be used as a flour substitute in baked goods, sprinkled on cereals, salads or soups.
Hemp seeds: Hemp seeds are an exceptional source of vegetarian protein — and are one of the few complete plant proteins, meaning they provide the amino acids your body can’t produce itself but are crucial to the rebuilding and recovery of muscles. These seeds are also excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids and have anti-inflammatory properties, making them excellent to sprinkle just about anywhere you’d like to add an extra protein boost; smoothies, salads, soups, sprinkled on cookies, baked into breads or ground into seed butter.
Pumpkin seeds: Some of the most commonly used seeds, pumpkin are exceptional sources of phosphorous, healthy fats and minerals. The oil in pumpkin seeds can be particularly healthful, and is excellent as a salad dressing. Pumpkin seeds can be soaked and toasted then used as an excellent finish to any dish or added to your favorite granola mix. We like them sprinkled over avocado toast for extra crunch!
Sesame seeds: Like many seeds, sesame seeds are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals lignans, healthy fats and fiber as well as trace minerals. Sesame seeds may also help repair and replenish muscles in athletes and balance hormone levels. Tahini is a sesame seed-based paste used in many recipes; since whole sesame seeds are ground to make tahini, it is also an excellent source of nutrients. You can make your own with sesame seeds at home or you can sprinkle sesame seeds on grilled fish, vegetables for extra crunch, add to granola or sprinkle on toasts and dishes where you want a little extra something.
Sunflower seeds: Protein, healthy fats and vitamin E are all prevalent in sunflower seeds. They may help with inflammation, but regardless are excellent sources of all of these nutrients which are beneficial for overall health. Similar to pumpkin and sesame seeds, sunflower seeds are delicious when ground into seed butter but are also excellent sprinkled anywhere a little nutrient and texture boost is desired.