Food security

The incredible, edible seed

Think about all the animals at the zoo. Even though the elephant looks drastically different from the eagle, they each share common functions for survival. Including humans, all animals (with few exceptions) have eyes for seeing, ears for hearing, and a mouth for eating. Kind of like every animal has basic body parts, every plant has basic parts that we recognize as flower, fruit, and seed.

And, just like the elephant and the eagle, plants and their parts can look drastically different, so long as they contain the same basic parts. For example, the big apple tree has showy flowers and a delicious fleshy fruit that protects the small seeds contained inside. On the contrary, a bean plant has a small flower and produces a pod (fruit) containing beans (seeds).

Seeds are essentially baby plants. Just like humans say, ‘children are our future,’ if plants could talk, they would say ‘seeds are our future.’ The catch is that plants can’t move, and so they must be more creative about how they do things like reproduce.

Sunflower seeds in shells.
Whether you’re a baseball player or a squirrel, sunflower seeds are eaten by many! Credit: Getty Images via Canva

Would it surprise you to learn that the nutrients in seeds are also healthy and tasty? Like a mother’s milk, a seed can be a dense source of protein, lipids, and carbohydrates. Farmers grow and harvest these seeds for our consumption.

Other common seeds you might find on your plate are legumes, which hold their seeds in pods. Sometimes, we eat the seed before it fully develops, such as green beans or snow peas.  However, a legume is not mature until the pod and seed is dry. These include beans, chickpeas, and lentils. Peanuts are actually legumes, and they are unique because their seed pod grows underground.

True ‘nuts’ are seeds contained in a hard shell. We may mix them all up in a bowl and serve them salty, but those nuts are very diverse. We already learned that peanuts are actually legumes. Almonds are in the same family as roses and raspberries. Walnuts, pecans, and hickories are cousins. The Brazil nut and cashew both hail from South America. The cashew has a secret as well – its related to that itchy poison ivy!

Bowl of mixed nuts.
Mixed nuts are tasty and healthy snacks. While different types of nuts are diverse, they all share one thing: nuts are seeds inside of hard shells! Credit: Getty Images via Canva

Finally, when I think “edible seed”, I immediately think of roasted sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.  These we eat just for the pure enjoyment of eating. If anyone ever said you might ‘grow a watermelon’ if you swallowed the seed this was hogwash. It’s still more fun spitting watermelon seeds out than taking them in. However, many fruits and veggies have seeds that are so small we eat them and don’t even notice. If you slice open a banana, you’ll see dark specs – those are actually seeds!

At your next meal, take a moment to assess the variety of seeds on your plate. Wheat, corn, or soybeans probably formed the basis of your meal, even if in the form of bread, tortillas, or tofu! If seeds aren’t used to create the main dish, they were used to feed the livestock. Maybe they add extra flavoring in your lemon poppyseed muffin, or on your sesame seed bun. If you had a PB&J for lunch, you indulged in bread wheat and peanuts – a lunch of seeds!

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Whether it’s from the bread wheat or the peanuts, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich contains ingredients that come from seeds! Credit: Getty Images via Canva

Just like the animals at the zoo, plants and their seeds range in size and shape from teeny-tiny to humongous. Seeds are grown for eating raw and processed almost any way you can think of. Seeds, or ‘baby plants’ also have the important job of carrying on the next generation when planted underground.  Seeds are valuable to humans in both roles. Plant breeders and agronomists work to grow plants with the highest number of seeds and the biggest, healthiest seeds (yield). Thank a seed today for achieving its potential!

Answered by Christine Bradish, AVOCA

Did you know that breeders developed edible cotton seeds – and no, they aren’t fuzzy! Read here.

To see a video of Dr. Bradish in action, visit here.

Please visit our Seed Week webpage for more information.

Read the other blogs in our seed series!

How can you prevent weed seeds from germinating in your garden?

How are seeds labeled for a farmer’s purchase?

Protecting Seeds: The What, Why, and How of Seed Treatments

How does the USDA help make global seed trade safer?

Why are seeds of different sizes and shapes?

What are seeds made of – and how can they grow into fruitful plants?!

About us: This blog is sponsored and written by members of the American Society of Agronomy and Crop Science Society of America. Our members are researchers and trained, certified, professionals in the areas of growing our world’s food supply while protecting our environment. We work at universities, government research facilities, and private businesses across the United States and the world.

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