Basil Seeds Are Having A Moment
Chances are you’ve heard about chia seeds and might have even tried them, but now there’s a new seed making mouths water. More and more people are looking beyond the leaves of the sweet basil plant and going straight to the source: the seeds.
When soaked in liquid, basil seeds act quite similarly to chia seeds: They plump up and deliver all kinds of health benefits. But which should you be feeding to your runner’s body?
When the book Born to Run came out in 2009, reporter Christopher McDougall introduced many of us to new fueling ideas, including some very small seeds making a big impact. He had traveled to northwestern Mexico, where he found the Tarahumara people farming chia seeds and using them for running fuel—along with rice, beans, veggies and meat. Whether making shorter jaunts based on daily routines or traveling long distances over mountainous terrain, the Tarahumara credit chia seeds with powering them to success.
Today, you can easily find chia-laden bars and drinks. At grocery stores, chia seeds have snuck their way into nut butters, jellies, cereals and baked goods. They are also sold in bulk, so shoppers can incorporate them into homemade recipes.
Chia seeds are nutritional powerhouses, boasting heart-healthy omega-3s, protein and antioxidants. “On a gram-for-gram level, chia contains eight times more omega-3 than salmon and is one of the top sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid that our bodies can’t produce on their own,” says Janie Hoffman, founder of Mamma Chia, a brand that sells drinks, bars, granolas and other products featuring chia seeds.
On the other side of the globe, basil seeds, also known as Sabja seeds, are used to make drinks in countries such as India and Thailand, and the seeds are recognized for helping with everything from digestion and weight loss to healthy skin and hair. Basil seeds haven’t yet had their Born to Run moment in the U.S., but they are germinating in the healthy foods space.
One company beginning to explore the opportunities that basil seeds present in healthy fueling is Basil Seed Works, which makes Zen Basil (a beverage made with organic basil seeds) and sells dried seeds. The company, which compares basil seeds’ tiny black ingredients to chia seeds—with twice the fiber, iron, potassium and calcium—says basil seeds may also help with stress relief, heart strength and digestive health. Its website touts, “Ayurveda and Chinese medicine believed basil to be an ‘adaptogen’ that could cleanse the body of toxins, offer a boost of energy and encourage clarity of mind.”
To thirsty runners’ delight, both seeds help with hydration since they expand in liquid. In fact, that’s how basil seeds should be consumed. NDTV Food in New Delhi explains, “You can soak about two teaspoons of Sabja seeds in one cup of warm water for about 15 minutes. Warm water causes the seeds to fully swell up releasing antioxidants and beneficial digestive enzymes.”After soaking in water or another liquid, the seeds form a gelatinous coating and will be a little larger than hydrated chia seeds, which also expand but take a little longer to do so.
The tiny chia seeds—which can expand to 12 times their size—are more versatile in a few ways: They can be eaten whole or ground, so if you don’t like the swollen-in-liquid tapioca-like texture, you may like the crispy seeds (try them on a salad or within your overnight oats). If the raw seeds sticking between your teeth begin to annoy you, consider ground seeds (easily added to flour for baking). Chia tends to have less flavor that basil seeds, which have a very light taste of basil.
Seattle-based registered dietitian Ginger Hultin, who is also the spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says, “Both chia and basil seeds can be considered superfoods.” Given how nutrient-dense both seeds are, it’s worth giving each a try—and if you’re already a fan of basil, we have a feeling you’ll find a fast favorite.