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Foods

Seeds
Why Eat It
Varieties
Storage
Preparation


Why Eat It

The edible seeds we eat grow on vegetable or flower plants, and their hulls, which are softer than those of nuts, are sometimes edible. Seeds have substantial reserves of protein, deriving 11% to 25% of their calories from protein. Although the protein is incomplete--seeds are deficient in the amino acid lysine--it can be complemented by consuming legumes or animal products along with the seeds. Sesame seeds contain a good amount of calcium, and other seeds have at least a small quantity of this important mineral. Seeds also supply iron, potassium, and phosphorus. (An ounce of sesame seeds furnishes about three times the iron in an ounce of beef liver.) Seeds also contain healthy amounts of dietary fiber, particularly when they are eaten with their shells or hulls.

Along with these nutrients, however, comes fat, usually a great deal of it. For example, 3 tablespoons of sunflower seeds have as much fat as a chocolate croissant. So it's best to use seeds sparingly. But even in small amounts they have much to offer in the way of distinctive flavors and textures, as well as protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Varieties

Pumpkin seeds: See "Pumpkin seeds"

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 ingredient in Asia. Tahini, a spread also known as the "butter of the Middle East," is made from ground sesame seeds. Sesame seeds were brought to America with the slave trade, and are still used in several popular southern recipes. They are even more familiar in this country as a topping on breads, buns, and rolls.

Most of the sesame seeds sold in the United States are grown in Latin America. You can buy hulled or unhulled sesame seeds. The unhulled, which are darker in color, have the bran intact and are an excellent source of calcium, iron, and phosphorus. About 50% of the calcium, however, is bound by oxalate, and so is unavailable to the body.

Sunflower seeds: These seeds come from the center of the tall daisylike sunflower that is native to North America. For more information, see "Sunflower seeds."

Storage

Seeds can quickly become rancid because of the high fat content. Heat, light, and humidity will speed spoilage. Unshelled seeds, however, keep very well: six months to a year when stored in a cool, dry place. Shelled seeds will keep for three to four months at room temperature in a cool, dry place. For longer storage, keep seeds in the refrigerator for a few months or in the freezer for up to a year.

Preparation

Most seeds taste better if they are toasted. Remove the seeds immediately from the skillet or pan to stop the toasting process.

Toasting: This method browns seeds and brings out their flavor. Seeds can be toasted on the stovetop, or in the oven or microwave; the cooking time will depend on the type of seeds and their fat content.

For stovetop toasting, place hulled seeds in a single layer in a heavy, ungreased skillet. Toast over medium heat, shaking the pan and stirring them to keep them from scorching, until they are golden brown. Cooking times: three to five minutes.

For oven toasting (convenient when you are preheating the oven for baking), place hulled seeds in a shallow baking pan. Stir the seeds occasionally. Cook until they are golden. Cooking time: 10 to 25 minutes in a 350°F oven.


Date Published: 04/21/2005
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