| Seedy Sustenance
Powerful Nutrient-Dense Plant Foods
by Sandra Brandt
Edible plant foods include roots, shoots, fruits, fungi, and seeds. Anything that can be sprouted and planted is a seed, which includes grains, legumes, nuts (edible seeds from tree fruits), and those we more directly identify as edible seeds, which come from flowering plants and have a high oil content. This article focuses on the last category, which for abbreviation purposes will be simply called “seeds,” including sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, flax, hemp, and chia.
Along with nuts, seeds are among the most nutrient-dense plant foods in terms of energy and protein; however, seeds are generally more economical to buy than nuts (although hemp and chia seeds are more in the price range of nuts).
Seeds (and nuts) are fairly subject to rancidity after their protective hulls are removed, due to their high polyunsaturated oil content, so careful storage is recommended. A good guideline is to store them in airtight containers or bags up to 6 months refrigerated or up to one year in the freezer. Of course, many raw shelled seeds and nuts are not stored well by wholesalers and retailers, so it is even better to source them directly from a supplier who sells them freshly harvested, such as Rancho Vignola in British Columbia, found at www.ranchovignola.com. Rancid nuts and seeds, whose oils have been oxidized, can be detected by their off taste and should be discarded. However, since many pre-packaged nut/seed snacks have been heavily salted and flavoured, the rancid taste is covered up, so these kinds of products are best avoided.
Seeds can be used to extract oils, to grind and blend into nut butter-type spreads, or to blend into milky beverages, or incorporate into smoothies. In their whole shelled form, they are often used to add texture and nutrition to a variety of foods, such as baked goods, salads, or breakfast cereals. Besides certain amino acids (protein components), seeds are also rich in fibre, essential fatty acids (especially valued for omega 3s), vitamin E, and a range of minerals and other nutrients and micro-nutrients.
Chia seeds have recently become popular. Chia means “strength” in the Mayan language as the seed was renowned for its use by long-distance runners to give them endurance; just a small amount of the seeds sustained them for long periods of time. Black chia seeds (there are also white ones, called salba) are similar to poppy seeds in colour and texture but smaller. The chia plant belongs to the mint family. Chia seeds are mucilaginous (when combined with a liquid, it produces a gel-like consistency). A spoonful of chia seeds soaked in a cup of water or juice yields a very refreshing and sustaining beverage. As a traditional Native American food, chia grows along the California coast and all the way into Mexico, where it was also used as ground meal in baked products. After Europeans introduced wheat to the area, chia continued to be added to wheat-based breads for preferred flavour and nutrition. Chia seeds are now commonly used in smoothies, and added to baked goods, and of course, sprouted as in “chia pets.”
Sesame seeds have a long history of use in Middle-Eastern as well as Asian cuisines. Halvah, a confection made of ground sesame seeds and honey, was eaten by women in ancient times to preserve youth and beauty. Sesame is the oldest known oilseed crop, but was also used traditionally to make tahini/sesame butter, which in turn is also a traditional ingredient in hummus, as well as in gomashio, a salted ground sesame seed condiment sprinkled on rice or other dishes. For best nutrition, it should be ground before eating as the seeds are otherwise too small to chew well enough to fully digest.
Hemp seeds have become revered in health circles as a real powerhouse of nutrition. They are known mainly for their high level of amino acid balanced protein, as well as containing a naturally good balance of essential fatty acids.
Flax seeds, like sesame, are also best consumed ground into meal, and like chia, they also form a gel when mixed with liquid. Canadian prairie flax, mostly the dark brown variety, is said to produce a superior quality and quantity of oil due to the specific climate and growing conditions.
Hemp, flax, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds can all be grown in our climate so they are all examples of more locally-sourced food.
Unlike grains and legumes, these simple edible seeds don’t need to be cooked, although toasting lightly in an oven or stove top pan adds a satisfying depth to their flavour. However, what is generally not recognized is that like seeds used for planting, in which the blueprint for the life of a sizable plant is encapsulated in a tiny package, and which can only grow and flourish with the addition of water, seeds for eating also need moisture to “come to life” nutritionally and digestively. Like grains and legumes, they are at their best when pre-soaked, which is a traditional method of eliminating the anti-nutrients they contain, such as enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid. Salted water works best for soaking nuts and seeds. Salt helps to de-activate toxic enzyme inhibitors in seeds and nuts, which then releases more nutrients for absorption by your body when you eat them. Soaked and strained nuts and seeds can then be dehydrated to restore the crispness that makes them such an excellent crunchy snack or topping (see recipe method below).
Soaked Sunflower, Pumpkin, or Sesame Seeds: Place seeds in a jar or dish. Add enough water to cover and also to allow some expansion of seeds (probably about ¼ to 1/3 extra volume). Stir in unrefined salt, about 2 tsp. for every 2 cups of seeds (use only about half as much salt for nuts). Soak at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse. Now you have three choices: 1) Use them as is in salads, casseroles, etc. 2) Keep rinsing and draining them once or twice a day for a couple of days while storing at room temperature to sprout them slightly, which increases the nutritional value even more. 3) Dry the seeds to restore the original crunchy texture. You can use a dehydrator or a low temp oven (ideally no more than 150º F—may keep oven door open a crack if oven temp can’t be set that low). Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet in the oven, the seeds should become fully crisped in about 6 to 12 hours; test them periodically. Seeds can be soaked and dried in large batches and then stored in fridge or freezer to use as needed.
1/2 cup each chia, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin seeds (soaked and dehydrated seeds are most nutritious—see recipe above)
1 cup water
Let mixture sit at least 5 to 10 minutes to thicken. (May soak chia seeds overnight to increase digestibility)
Season as desired (salt, herbs, spices)
Spread thinly on a parchment-lined baking pan. Bake at 325ºF for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, turn over with a spatula, cut into cracker-sized pieces, bake another 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
Hemp Seed Pesto
Combine in food processor:
1 peeled garlic clove (process garlic by itself first to chop,
or chop by hand)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups fresh basil/parsley
3/4 tsp unrefined salt
Add and process:
1/4 cup shelled hemp seeds
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Stir into one 340g package whole grain pasta, cooked.
Coconut Flax Hemp Bites
(adapted from fragrantvanillacake.blogspot.com)
Combine in food processor:
3/4 cup soft dates, pitted
1 cup ground flaxseed
3/4 cup shelled hemp seeds
1-1/2 cup dried shredded coconut
3/4 tsp unrefined salt
Process until a uniform crumbly mixture is formed.
Add and process until a sticky mixture is produced:
1/4 cup coconut oil (more if needed to hold mixture together)
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
Press mixture into a 9 x 9 inch baking dish. Chill and cut into small squares to serve.
Sandra Brandt has had a lifelong interest in whole natural foods. She lives in Regina, where she gives cooking classes, presentations, and dietary consultations. She can be reached by email: email@example.com. Also see the colour display ad on page 13 of the 19.6 March/April issue of the WHOLifE Journal.