Basil seeds : Are they better than Chia ?

Like many other underrated Indian indigenous foods, basil seeds are hardly known to many except for their rare appearance in a refreshing rose falooda drink available in most restaurants. Basil seeds are popularly known as falooda seeds (Arabic) or sabja or tukmaria (Hindi) in India. These seeds have an excellent nutritional profile pretty similar to that of the famous chia seeds. Basil seeds are yet another humble relative of the Western counterpart chia who eagerly awaits its ”  moment of fame”.

Origins: Basil seeds are native to India grown across the country and also in parts of Southeast Asia as well as Iran and Africa. Chia seeds are grown primarily in Mexico and South America and are said to have been used by Mayan and Aztec cultures for supernatural powers.

Appearance:   Both the seeds are blackish but chia seeds are round and basil seeds are tear shaped.

Storage: Both the seeds can be stored for several months in a refrigerator

Taste:  Soaked chia seeds and basil seeds are almost tasteless. Basil seeds are very hard and cannot be eaten raw but raw chia seeds can be sprinkled over salads.

Cost : Chia seeds – Rs 1500-1600 per kg   Basil seeds – Rs 450-500 /kg

Common nutritional benefits

  • Both these seeds are very rich in soluble fiber. Chia seeds have approximately 35% fiber and basil seeds Fiber rich foods have a bulking effects and favourable impact on digestion and absorption of nutrients. Fiber delays digestion and absorption of the carbohydrates and fats in foods preventing spike in blood sugars post meals and prevent weight gain and diabetes .
  • Chia seeds and basil seeds have exceptional gelling properties. Chia seeds can swell up to 12 times its size and basil seeds expand 30 times their original size. They form a thick viscous gel which can act as a barrier between food and enzymes slowing down the breakdown and absorption of sugars from food. This is a valuable property in reducing the postprandial blood sugar response .
  • Both the seeds help maintain good hydration and are effective in beating summer heat due to their ability to hold abundant moisture.
  • Chia seeds as well as sabja are effective in curing stomach ailments such as indigestion, bloating or even constipation which can be attributed to their high soluble fiber content and subsequent bulk forming property.
  • 60% of fat in chia seeds comprises of alpha linolenic acid (ALA) which is the source of Omega 3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA. There is limited data to show presence of ALA in basil seeds due to poor documentation. But , both the seeds can be considered as a valuable plant source of the omega 3 fatty acids which have multiple benefits in prevention and cure of communicable as well as non communicable diseases.

Health benefits of Basil seeds :

  • Soaked basil seeds has been used by traditional Persian herbalists to treat infectious conditions such as cold, cough or asthma. This is because they can prevent contraction or spasm of the bronchial muscles thereby providing relief from the coughing to enable the person to rest .
  • Basil seeds can help relieve gas and aid digestion due to the presence of volatile oils
  • Basil seeds may help relieve stress and depression due to their soothing effect
  • Basil seeds are very rich source of iron and 100gm of the seeds can help meet 40% of the recommended daily allowance for iron
  • Basil seeds are a great antidote to the heat in summers by having a cooling effect on the stomach.
  • Basil seeds when mixed with coconut oil is very useful for treating skin related problems like eczema, psoriasis and other skin related problems.
  • Consuming basil seeds helps your body secrete collagen which is essential in forming new skin cells.

Health benefits of chia seeds

  • Chia seeds can help reduce oxidative stress in the body due to presence of nutrients such as magnesium and phenolic compounds (mainly quercetin and kaempferol), which have antioxidative effect
  • Chia seeds are very rich in calcium , phosphorus, zinc and manganese.
  • Chia seeds have an impressive protein content of 19–23% with a non-limiting amino acid profile which makes them excellent source of plant protein for vegetarians.
  • Chia seeds contains amino acid tryptophan which can be converted to serotonin in the body Serotonin has a calming effect and induces sleep as well.

Disadvantages of basil seeds

Basil seeds can induce contractions and lead to miscarriage in pregnant women. Basil is considered to be an “Emmenagogue” which are a family of herbs that stimulate blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus and may, therefore, cause stimulation of menstruation.

In India, our ancient treasure of knowledge is not documented hence goes obsolete. Western countries have several vested interests in glamorizing their health foods as it can boost economy. They even back it up with substantial scientific evidence to ensure patronage among the so-called educated masses.

Once again, basil seeds are the inexpensive, immensely nutritious, and cool alternative to chia seeds. If and when wise and conscious consumers demand for them, their latent nutritional benefits will get the limelight too!


Author: drpoojachhawcharia

Dr Pooja Chhawcharia is the Senior Nutritionist at eKincare with over 7 years of experience in Nutrition education, diet counseling and research. She is a Registered Dietician with the Indian Dietetic Association and Certified Diabetes Educator recognized by the International Diabetes federation . She is also interested in ancillary sciences such as Yoga and Naturopathy.

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