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Seed Glossary

Increase your kernel knowledge with this guide to the top seeds.

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Photography by: Jonathan Lovekin

Anise

The distinctive licorice flavor of this seed is used in sweets and liqueurs worldwide—including Italian anisette cookies and spirits like Greek ouzo and Middle Eastern arak. It is often confused with the similar-tasting fennel, but anise seeds are smaller, and their flavor is more concentrated and floral.

 

Black and White Sesame

The mildly sweet sesame was one of the first oilseed crops to be domesticated. Now it can be found in almost every cuisine, from Japanese to Middle Eastern to Indian. The difference between the two varieties is largely aesthetic, as they taste quite similar.

 

Brown and Golden Flax

This suddenly ubiquitous seed achieved superfood status when studies showed it may protect against many illnesses, including cancer and heart disease. Flaxseeds’ health benefits are more easily absorbed when they are consumed ground rather than whole.

 

Caraway

The fragrant caraway seed is a prominent player in eastern European and Scandinavian cuisine, showing up not only in baked goods but in stews, sauerkraut, and pickles. Now many American chefs are expanding caraway’s role beyond rye and pumpernickel by adding it to meat or vegetable dishes.

 

Cumin

Cumin, which adds an earthy flavor and medium spiciness to Indian, Middle Eastern, and South American cuisines, is often used in its ground form. (For the freshest flavor, toast and grind your own seeds.) In traditional medicine, cumin has long been used as a digestive aid.

 

Fennel

A common ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder, Italian sausage, and many Indian curries, fennel has long been revered for its aromatic pungency and its digestive benefits. Puritans called it the “meeting seed” because, according to some historians, it was thought to fend off hunger during long sermons.

 

Hemp

Seeds from the hemp plant—the stalks of which were long harvested for nonfood uses like clothing and rope—are newly celebrated for their high levels of essential fatty acids, protein, and antioxidants. It is part of the cannabis family—but not to be confused with what is cultivated as marijuana.

 

Nigella

Tiny, stark-black nigella seeds, which have a nutty, peppery flavor, are often used in Indian spice mixes and as a topping for breads such as naan.

 

Poppy

Once considered a natural sleep aid (perhaps not surprising, since the poppy plant also yields opium), the dusky seeds are common toppings for breads and bagels. When ground, they gain flavor and intensity, providing a rich base for the sweet paste that is a popular filling in eastern European baked goods such as strudel and hamantaschen.

 

Pumpkin

In culinary terminology, these are often called pepitas, their Spanish name, especially when they have been hulled to reveal the green interiors. These protein- and antioxidant-rich seeds make a great snack when roasted and salted but also work well in breads, trail mixes, and salads.

 

Sunflower

Often consumed on its own as a snack, the dehulled sunflower “seed” is more accurately called the kernel or heart. Nutlike and substantial, it is also a popular source of cooking oil and sunflower butter, an allergen-free alternative to peanut butter.

 

Ready to incorporate these tiny powerhouses into your meals? Check out some of our favorite recipes for baking with seeds.

And watch how to make our Seeded Quick Bread:

Get the Seeded Savory Quick Bread Recipe
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