NEW DELHI: An interesting thing about emerging food trends is how often they try to advance riding piggyback synergistically on prevailing trends. Veganism, interest in organic and immunity-boosting 'super foods' along with the allure of exotic imports all seem to have contributed to propelling themselves to centre stage.
Quinoa, chiya, flax and pumpkin seeds are suddenly encountered everywhere. Nutritionists are busy endorsing seedy stuff singing paeans of praise underlining how rich they are in vegetable proteins, fibre, micronutrients etc. Food stores are displaying on their shelves attractive packs of assorted seeds 'ready to snack' or blended with nuts and dried fruits. The labels share recipes to substitute these for breakfast cereals or for healthy salads.
Quinoa can, we are told, be used instead of rice in a pulav or broken wheat in dalia. Such claims leave us more than a little intrigued. Aren't rice and wheat themselves not seeds of wild grasses that have been domesticated? Aren't these seeds identified as grains not packed with fibre, micronutrients, carbs, etc.? Consumed unrefined and paired with lentils/ legume these cereals also promise to deliver a balanced meal. It's the affluent meat eaters in the USA and Europe (many of them suffering from lifestyle diseases) who have fallen under the spell of Magic Seeds.
All seeds are beneficial for our health. These midgets are power packed. A small amount is enough to meet daily dietary requirements of fibre, vitamins and micronutrients like iron (makes blood oxygen rich), zinc (builds immunity), calcium (good for bones), potassium, magnesium (tones up brain function), phosphorus (assists in repairing body cells and filtering waste). Quinoa is naturally gluten-free and can be eaten safely if one has gluten intolerance.
Unlike some other plant proteins, quinoa is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot make on their own. Pumpkin seeds are high in fibre, calories and fat - just one cup has 285 calories, 12 grams of fibre and 12 grams of fat. Like humans, not all seeds are born equal. Flaxseeds, like chia seeds, are an excellent plant-based source of omega-3 fats, or alpha-linolenic acid.
Chia seeds absorb almost ten times the weight of water and add bulk and body to many dishes that are made with more expensive ingredients. Commercial kitchens use the seeds routinely to prepare jell or substitute Advocacy to promote increased seed consumption is in full swing.
If you wish to be self-reliant you may consider potting plants at home to have an uninterrupted supply and add a touch of green to the rooftop or the balcony. In the west 'six great seeds' are often listed together and the general belief is that the daily intake of a couple of spoonfuls is enough to lose weight, control blood pressure and manage blood sugar better.
The list of Indian seeds that have been used for generation enhancing the flavour of the cooked and helping us remain healthy is much longer: coriander and cumin, caraway and fennel, mustard and fenugreek, sesame and poppy seeds, pumpkin and mixed melon seeds, nigella and charoli seeds.
Naan breads in the Indian subcontinent have long been sprinkled with kalonji-nigella seeds and it is generously used in the genre of recipes called launji. In Bengal it is an integral part of the paanch poton tempering. It is often referred to as kalo jiro/siah jeera and is used in many other parts of India in pickling spices.
Rai is mustard and the tiny seed (black, red or yellow) is prized for the pleasant pungency it imparts to the dishes it is used in. Sorshe in Bengal is what makes many fish curries come alive. The seeds are lovingly ground to a paste creating kasundhi an exquisite mustard sauce. Hemp (bhang) seeds, aka hemp hearts, are rich in vitamin E and potassium.
They also have the most protein of all the seeds and are a great source of healthy omega-6 and omega-3 fats. The seeds that are totally free from toxicity are traditionally used in Uttarakhand as a condiment. Besides the chutney they are the dominant ingredient in the spice paste when gaderi (yam) vegetable is cooked to impart a delightful nutty flavour.
Sesame (til) is widely used and considered nutritious and satvik. Earliest references to til are found in Vedic literature. They are indispensable in Hindu rites and rituals. Not only is the oil pressed from these seeds widely used in north and south Indian kitchens they are used in sweet and savoury dishes. Sweets like tilkut, tilfugga, rewari and gajjak to laddus are sesame based.
In Nepal and the North Eastern states of India Til (white, black and pink) are also used in savoury dishes prepared with potatoes--achar and pitha. Tahini sauce appeals to the Indian palate because sesame is no stranger to this land.
Poppy seeds (khus-khus also called post) are used in Bengal, Awadh and Hyderabad either by itself or along with chaar magaz (mixed melon seeds) to enrich gravies.
Even dry dishes like alu posto are enlivened with it. Thandai the quintessential Indian summer coolant relies on chaar magaz to combat heat. The practice of nibbling at pumpkin seeds wasn't unknown in the countryside. Germinating seeds were consumed for breakfast flavoured with jaggery or salt garnished with chopped chillies and ginger. In Rajasthan, fenugreek seeds and raisins are paired to make an interesting sweet and sour vegetable with just a hint of palate-pleasing bitterness.
A number of chefs with innovative flair like Nishant Choubey are mixing and matching the swadeshi seeds with imports creating fused platters to reap a profitable harvest, at the same time rekindling interest in almost forgotten seeds used in traditional Indian cooking seeds like chironji.
The 'Cauldron Sisterss' in Jaipur are exploring saunf and Rushina M Ghildiyal, Chef, author and food researcher in Mumbai, has given a new lease of life to jakhiya. Snehalata Saikia, the gifted home chef from Assam based in Dehi, is busy pushing the envelope with black sesame seeds in pitha, bhorta and laddoos. We are happy to note that this wind of change is scattering myriad seeds in different directions. Some will surely fall in fertile soil.