Packed with protein and a host of nutrients, seeds are not just a delicious snack, but a healthy one. That said, it’s always a good idea to know where our food comes from, and while most understand that plants come from them, where seeds themselves come from is less widely known.
Seeds: A Biology Lesson
The origin of seeds has very much to do with the birds and the bees, both euphemistic and real. Plants that
reproduce (as opposed to ones which are grown from cuttings, like bananas) contain ovaries, like other female creatures. In a flowering plant, these ovaries are found in the bulb or base of the flower.
When it is time to reproduce, the ovaries receive sperm from their male counterparts via pollination. Bees, birds, the wind… many vehicles help fertilize a plant, but once pollen has mixed with a plant’s ovule, seeds can develop. This makes them the embryos of a plant, carrying the genetic material of both its parents. The tough outer hull is the coat that protects the life within. If left to its own devices, it eventually leaves its mother and once implanted in the ground, grows into its own plant.
Edible vs. Inedible Seeds
Just as parents try to protect their young in the animal kingdom, seeds are not sent off into the world without the means of survival. In some cases, these tactics just serve as an inconvenience to humans, such as when we need to shell them to get at the edible portion within, and in other cases these measures render the contents inedible. For example, while a limited amount of those found in apples, cherries or apricots won’t kill you, they could still give you a sizable stomach ache since they contain amygdalin, a substance that produces the poison known as cyanide. This difference in edibility is why some are eaten and others are discarded.
Because they’re defined as the embryos of plants, there are a number of food items you wouldn’t expect to would fall into the category. Common ones include sunflower, sesame, pumpkin and poppy. However, cereals such as corn, rice, oats and wheat are grass seeds, as are legumes like chickpeas, soybeans and lentils. Peanuts, quinoa, wheat berries… the list goes on and on. In fact, a good number of food items in your pantry could be classified as seeds!