Using Seeds As A Seasoning
with Mike Johnston
cooking with seeds seed to seed seeds whole seeds
"Every day we see folks skimming past the seed section and diving into the more visually interesting sections. Luckily, great flavor doesn’t always correspond with vivid color!"
The seed section in our shops is like an ugly duckling in a room full of beautiful, colorful birds. It’s drab; the colors (if you even want to call them that) tend to be dull tans, beiges, and browns— nothing like the color and splendor of our chile and bbq sections, or (keeping with the bird analogy) nothing like cardinals, parrots, and macaws. Every day we see folks skimming past the seed section and diving into the more visually interesting sections. Luckily, great flavor doesn’t always correspond with vivid color! I’m here to tell you that if you stop and dig in a little more, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that there are a lot of flavor swans (sorry, I had to do it) just waiting to be discovered.
So Many Seeds to Explore
You are likely familiar with the big six of the seed section; celery, coriander, cumin, fennel, mustard, and sesame. However, there are many others including ajowan, annatto, anise, caraway, charnushka, chia, dill, fenugreek, and poppy. Some of those (like anise, dill, and poppy) might sound familiar but others (like ajowan, annatto, and charnushka) less so. Of course, there are also different varieties to consider. You’ve likely seen yellow and brown mustard seeds, but did you know you can also get black mustard seeds? Same with sesame: we have white and toasted, but black too. With poppy we have the traditional blue, but also a nutty tasting white variety.
Fresh Ground Flavor
So now you know what’s in the seed section, but how the heck are you going to use them? Seeds are most commonly used in ground form. One of the most effective ways to release the flavor of seeds is to grind them. Of course, the fresher the seed, the more flavorful it will be—which is why we offer the option to purchase whole seeds and grind them down yourself. It’s also why we freshly grind our spices in small batches every week. To kick up the flavor of any dish, add a sprinkle of ground seeds here and there—pretty simple.
To create your own fresh ground flavor, check out our Smoked Black Pepper Ranch recipe. Featuring tips for grinding whole seeds with smoked bourbon barrel black pepper, this is a unique twist on a classic salad dressing.
Seed to Seed
Right now, we are in the midst of our Seed to Seed campaign. The idea behind it is to highlight that, while we all know seeds are needed to grow our plant foods, sometimes we forget (or may not know) that many spices are seeds too. As spices, seeds can be used to flavor the same plants that they produce—and other plants as well. A great example of this is cilantro. The seed of the cilantro plant is the spice known as coriander. So you can plant some sprouting coriander seeds and grow cilantro, snip some leaves off the plant and grab a handful of dried coriander seeds, and you’re well on your way to an Indian, Thai, or Mexican flavor profile. For a recipe that does just that, try our new Cilantro-Coriander Pickled Jalapenos. Pretty cool what Mother Nature provides us with!
Whole Seeds = A Whole Lotta Flavor
I touched on how to use ground seeds as spices, but what I really want to go over is how to use whole or cracked seeds as seasonings or as part of a seasoning. You know what a whole seed is; cracked describes very coarse, non-uniform sizing—think of putting whole seeds into a zip lock bag and smacking them with a hammer a few times until there are no whole seeds left. There are two approaches when using seeds for spicing. The first is to use a liquid to extract the flavor from the seeds, then remove them from the final dish (or remove the flavored food from the seeds)—think brining, infusing, marinating, and pickling. The second is to leave the seeds in or on the final dish—think rubs and dressings.
Whichever method you use, you should take the time to toast the whole seeds beforehand. This simple step, which just takes a few minutes, will release full depth of flavor that lives inside the seed. The high heat from toasting excites the seed’s volatile oils, which carry the flavor. Click here for more information and for basic seed toasting instructions.
Whole Seeds (Clockwise from the top): Cumin, Annatto, Dill, Mustard, Fennel, and Coriander.
(Middle) Our Bengal Bay "Panch Phoron" featuring five different whole seeds.
Seasonings Inspired by Seeds
Now that the seeds are nice and toasty, let’s dig into what I do and recommend that you do when creating a seasoning or rub. After I have the basic flavor profile figured out, I start to consider the textural aspects of the blend. Let me explain by highlighting two blends that use whole or cracked seeds: our Great Plains Bison & Beef Rub (cracked coriander) and Family Style Fajita Seasoning (whole cumin).
With Great Plains, I wanted “butcher’s rub” characteristics, meaning the blend needed coarse spices that could stand up to higher heat applications—grilling for example. I wanted the balancing flavor of coriander seeds in the blend but, because they are one of the bigger seeds (averaging an eighth inch in size), using them whole would have made biting into a grilled protein less appealing. By simply cracking the seeds, the flavor impact is the same; the rub will hold up to high heat, and the final cooked dish will be perfectly palatable.
When creating our Fajita Seasoning, I came to the conclusion that we needed a blend that would add the expected flavor profile, but allow a busy home cook to quickly make fajitas without having to prep a bunch of peppers and onions. That meant the blend would need to include many coarse ingredients. Dehydrated diced peppers and onions were a definite, which allowed me to consider the use of whole seeds. In the case of fajitas, the seed flavor that is critical is cumin. I use our Fajita Seasoning often (love to make campfire fajitas) and I really enjoy when I take a bite and get that burst of cumin flavor.
Campfire Fajitas made using our Family Style Fajita Seasoning, bursting with cumin flavor
Don’t Skip the Seeds
The next time you’re in one of our stores or on our website, stop and check out the seed section or ask about our seed-inspired recipes. I know you’ll find some great seeds that can really add both flavor and texture to your next culinary creation!
Have a great recipe using seeds? Please share it with us! Click here to submit your seed-inspired recipe.