Seeds are a great yet often overlooked source of nutrition and flavor in baked products.
As consumers continue to seek out more healthful baked products, nutrition-packed breads are growing in popularity. The use of whole grain flours and the grains themselves is common in three-, four- and even seven-grain breads. Yet in this same category of fortifying bread products with added nutrition there remains an under-recognized source of nutrition, flavor and texture waiting to be made available to the health-conscious consumers: seeds.
Seeds are considered superfoods because of the variety and density of the important nutrients they contain. As consumers become increasingly aware of the health benefits seeds provide, finding ways to incorporate them into healthful baked items is more important than ever.
Closer examination of the nutritional value of traditional bread ingredients like dried fruit, nuts and seeds reveals that seeds and, to a slightly lesser degree, nuts are included on more and more lists of so-called superfoods. These are nutrient-dense, low-calorie foods especially recognized for their value in lowering the risk of certain ailments like heart disease, cancer, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Sunflower, flax, pumpkin, sesame seeds and wheat germ (not technically a seed but part of the wheat berry) are all rich sources of antioxidants and nutrients that provide chemicals that help reduce the risks of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Among their many benefits, flax seeds are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids; flax and pumpkin seeds are a good source of lignans, which are potent antioxidants that scavenge free radicals that can damage tissue and are considered to play a role in multiple diseases; flax seed and wheat germ together provide nearly every nutrient except vitamin C, bioflavanoids and chlorophyll; pumpkin seeds are a rich source of oleic acid, which helps lower LDL (bad) and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels; sesame seeds have been shown to lower blood pressure; and sunflower seeds are a rich source of vitamins B1, B5, E and folate and are a good source of other important minerals. All provide good-quality fiber.
Although nuts and seeds have always been a part of baking, they have tended to be incorporated into sweeter products like pies, rich dough products and as garnishes. In these more traditional roles, their value as superfoods was largely negated by the significant amounts of sugar and fat also incorporated in the products. It seemed a logical step to power pack good bread dough with the benefits of a variety of very healthy seeds.
The seed blend in this whole wheat seed bread is by itself a beautiful mixture of colors and shapes. It can be made in large quantities and should be kept refrigerated to help keep the oils in the seeds and wheat germ from becoming rancid. Chia and hemp seeds, although expensive, easily can be added to the seed mix, making it much richer in antioxidants and nutritional value.
This bread formula originated in a small retail bakery where bread was not at first available. Sales of the bread grew steadily and became a staple of the shop. In an early version of the formula wheat germ, cornmeal and pumpkin seeds were not included in the seed mixture. They were added to subsequent versions and the result is an even more attractive bread with better eating characteristics. Using both golden and brown flax seeds makes the mix and the bread even more appealing. The cornmeal adds an unexpected crunch. Using stone-ground, whole grain, whole wheat flour gives the bread a denser texture, which is an attractive characteristic for slicing loaves and for individual rolls, and ensures that the nutrients in the bran and germ are incorporated into the finished product.
The dough can be made into a variety of shapes and is especially good as a 3-oz. sandwich bun. The dough uses the direct mixing method. While it can be mixed and baked in one day, bulk fermentation overnight under refrigeration also is an excellent option.
The final product has a dark crust when baked but the crumb will be beautiful and honey-scented. Adding dried fruit like apricot, golden and dark raisins and cranberries to the mix would provide an appealing contrast of textures. Walnuts, an especially healthful nut, would make a wonderful addition as well. Whether or not these extras are incorporated, this bread makes a wonderful, thick slice of toast.
Richard Amster is an assistant professor/chef instructor at Suffolk County Community College in Riverhead, N.Y. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Amster’s varied career has taken him from executive chef positions in many of Pennsylvania’s catering and restaurant venues to lead instructor for the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute’s bread curriculum. Information about SCCC’s culinary arts program can be found at http://department.sunysuffolk.edu/CulinaryArts_E/index.asp.