With Halloween recently passed, I was reminded of one of my favorite childhood memories: that would be the disemboweling of a pumpkin (soon to be a jack o’lantern for our porch) and roasting the seeds for a special once-a-year treat that always seemed tastier than any pumpkin seeds you could buy in the store. (I’m sure a lot of people also share that memory … at least those that bought a real pumpkin and not those plastic ones.) And, of course, pumpkin seeds were a good source of protein, magnesium, vitamin E, and other nutrients, but as a kid I wasn’t really aware of that. The smell of the seeds cooking, the taste of them in a little butter, and naturally the subsequent carving of the pumpkin were the thoughts on my mind.
They say that good things come in small packages. Edible seeds might just be a perfect example of that. Among their virtues, they provide polyunsaturated fats and other valuable nutrients; a crunchy texture; an enhanced appearance; and a mild, pleasant, and somewhat nutty taste. Because of their properties, they can frequently replace other ingredients used as inclusions or toppings. Or they may find a role in special diets ranging from gluten-free to diabetic-friendly regimens. And as they are very versatile, they have the potential to be incorporated into formulations ranging from baked goods to coatings for meats, poultry, and fish.
While nuts and legumes often get the spotlight, sometimes edible seeds seem to get overlooked, however—even though they have a rich, colorful history that promotes their healthful benefits. When we think about seeds, some may share in my Halloween memory. Or perhaps remember the story of Johnny Appleseed. Or imagine a baseball player spitting out a seed hull from the dugout. Or recall seeing a package of seeds as a snack food near the cashier of a convenience store. Or we may even know of a bird aficionado using them to lure a favorite bird. But seeds go far beyond those recollections, evolving into new uses and stimulating opportunities for the food developer. And hopefully some of the seeds discussed here will take root in the minds of our food designers.
Take pumpkin seed, for example. It’s also known as pepita—Spanish for “little seed of squash.” Pumpkin seeds—or pepitas—are a popular ingredient in Mexican cuisine, especially moles. And as McCormick & Co., Hunt Valley, Md. (phone 410-527-9753, www.mccormick.com), demonstrated in its Flavor Forecast 2009, pepitas can be combined with the aromatic Indian spice blend garam masala to create dishes such as pepita-crusted halibut with blood orange jicama chutney; a curry pumpkin soup with pepitas and pumpkin seed oil; a pepita pumpkin bread; and a panna cotta with garam masala syrup and pepita brittle. Pepitas can add texture and nuttiness to a variety of applications and pairing them with garam masala is effective in many formulations using pumpkin, lime, beets, beef, and even root beer.
The use of seeds has the potential to stimulate the snack market, taking it into different directions. For example, Brad’s Raw Foods created an interesting line of chips made with dehydrated vegetables and seeds that are said to provide a balanced, raw snack while still enticing the senses. Each chip contains complete proteins and fats from good sources, and is gluten-free. Brad’s Raw Sweet Potato Chips are a combination of sweet potatoes, carrots, sprouted buckwheat groats, flax seeds, a little maple syrup, and a dash of nutmeg, giving the chip a flavor reminiscent of a gingersnap cookie. Brad’s Raw Leafy Kale Chips are created using a combination of kale, ground cashews, sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast (to create a cheesy flavor), sea salt, and lemon juice.
This article will be looking at the evolving uses of several seeds, including chia, quinoa, flax, sesame (discussed in the blog post that begins on this page), sunflower, and hemp. The article will also cover some of the interesting ingredient innovations (and food products in the marketplace) that can be derived from these seeds as well as the reasons why are they are becoming increasingly popular in food formulating.
And this article may even plant a few new ideas regarding the use of these “seeds of success.”