Sweet basil seeds are nutritious, have medicinal value

The rediscovery of a different variety of seeds from diverse cultures is always an exciting development. Sabja, a type of Tulsi seeds, is well-known in Aryuvedic medicine. These are the seeds of sweet basil, also called Thai Holy Basil, which is different from holy basil, the tulsi plant revered in India.

Native to Asia, particularly Maharashtra in India, sweet basil has been used for thousands of years as a culinary and medicinal herb and is also known for its therapeutic benefits. The seeds resemble the South American Chia seeds and are tiny round black, become gelatinous when soaked in water for about an hour. They form a translucent gel like membrane around each seed, resembling frog eggs. They are used in drinks in Asian countries such as Thailand and desserts such as Arabic falooda or sherbet.

In the past, basil seeds were used to relieve indigestion, sore throat, constipation and diarrhoea. Few studies suggest that the fibre in the mucilaginous layer surrounding the seeds after soaking is responsible for its bilk-forming laxative effect.

Perhaps, the gelatinous texture and high soluble fibre (80 per cent) of the swollen basil seeds helps make a filling drink, which could help curb appetite if consumed before meals. Although research is still in the preliminary stage, basil seeds may help control blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes, according to Sutter Gould Medical Foundation. Keeping blood sugars stable in weight watchers has the potential to help reduce appetite and food cravings.

In Thailand, three published studies have described the use of sweet basil seeds in treating constipation, diabetes and lowering high cholesterol levels. Interestingly, basil seeds are served with sugar syrup during Muslim fasts, to replenish lost nutrients.

In Southeast Asian cuisine, these seeds are often combined with water, sugar, honey and sometimes coconut milk to create sweetened beverages, some of which could be thick with a consistency similar to tapioca. The traditional recipes are high in sugar, which can be replaced by an alternative sweetener to reduce sugar calories. Its distinct texture creates an interesting and nutritious addition to desserts and puddings. Soaked basil seeds can also be added to your favourite juice, tea or sprinkled on top of salads. But do remember to soak them in hot or cold water for about an hour before using. Children and elderly could choke on swollen seeds and should be discouraged from consuming them.

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