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The Seed of an Idea: How Buckwheat, Hemp, Chia and Flax Are Taking Over Seedlings and mighty superfoods like buckwheat, hemp, chia and flax have gone mainstream.

By Brian Kateman

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As consumers continue to turn their attention to organic, plant-based, and nutritionally dense foods, we're beginning to see a rise in the growth of some unlikely and (literally) small products – namely, seeds. Products like buckwheat, hemp, flax, and chia were on the margins of the health food market just a few years ago, but the seed market will likely grow quite a bit in the near future.

Buckwheat, for example, is expected to reach a valuation of $1.8 billion globally by 2027, primarily due to increased demand in the food and beverage sector. Chia, once better known as a kitschy houseplant, is still selling fairly modestly ($66.5 million in 2018), but is growing even faster, at a rate of 5.8 percent. Flaxseed is growing even more rapidly, at a projected rate of 12.7 percent. And of course, hemp seeds have enjoyed a boost from the general growth of the cannabis product market and are expected to continue to grow to $480 million by 2024.

While none of these figures individually may be groundbreaking, it's worth noting that these ingredients were hardly in the cultural vocabulary a few years ago, save for health food stores and old-school vegetarian cookbooks. Now they seem to be popping up everywhere. Meanwhile, sectors like fast food are growing at comparably slower rates.

Related: Why the Next Technological Revolution in Alternative Meat Is Chicken

Ingredient replacements with perks

The reason we're starting to see more and more seeds is likely twofold: many of these seeds are being used to replace ingredients that consumers are increasingly avoiding. Additionally, they offer attractive health benefits in their own right. Chia and buckwheat (despite what the name may have you think) are both gluten-free, and people with Celiac disease and other sensitivities to gluten are able to use them as replacements in bread, certain cereals, and other grain-based foods.

All of the seeds in questions – hemp, chia, buckwheat, and flax – boast impressive nutritional profiles, making them appealing to anyone looking to improve their diet. Two tablespoons of hemp seeds, for example, provide 6.31g of protein (more than twice the amount, by volume, as eggs) and all essential amino acids, along with some omega-3s and several other vitamins and minerals like magnesium, potassium, and zinc.

Chia seeds are another good source of protein (16.5g protein per 100g serving), plus omega-3s and lots of fiber. Just a tablespoon of flax seeds contains 1.9g of protein and 2.8g of fiber, and is a source of omega-3s as well.

Buckwheat, in addition to being gluten-free, is considered a good source of protein, fiber, healthy complex carbs, and several vitamins like folate, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin K, and more.

Because of their nutrient density, these ingredients are exciting alternatives to more common grains like wheat as well as new additions to smoothies, baked goods, and other dishes. The high fiber content and presence of healthy fats makes them suitable for people trying to lose weight and experimenting with diets like keto.

You can find what seems like an infinite well of pro-health, nutrient-dense, plant-based recipes across the internet that utilize these seeds as key or supplementary ingredients. And as these ingredients become more commonplace, you may no longer need to travel out of your way to speciality stores in order to stock up on supplies.

Related: The Protein Bar Game Is Going Vegan

Seeds get snacked-up

Nutiva is one company making this possible, by selling these seeds in a variety of forms. The company makes all organic foods and cooking oils as well as personal care products, using ingredients like avocado, coconut, and of course, hemp and chia seeds. They sell straight hemp seeds and chia seeds, which can be added to salads and, well, virtually anything else, as well as a ground superseed mix of hemp, chia, and flax. They also offer an organic hemp protein supplement.

Lil' Bucks boasts itself to be the first dedicated sprouted buckwheat brand in the U.S., and they're selling original as well as flavored cacao and matcha buckwheat to sprinkle on top of a variety of foods (they suggest anything from salad to ice cream). They're also selling a product called Clusterbucks, which are buckwheat granola clusters than can be used to top your yogurt or be eaten on their own as a snack.

If you're curious, but want to introduce some of these nutritious seeds in a more familiar way, Path of Life sells an ancient grains mix that includes buckwheat as well as ingredients you already know, like brown rice and quinoa. It's a great reminder that new-to-you nutritious foods can be incorporated into comforting meals you already know how to make and love to eat, like stir-frys or rice and beans.

As the contemporary food industry continues to explore new ways to satisfy the health needs and taste preferences of modern consumers, it's nice to know that some companies are keeping it simple by looking to the earth for ingredients we already have at our fingertips. The future of food might just stem from a seed already planted by nature.

Related: Why Franchising Is the Future of the Healthy-Fast-Food Movement

Brian Kateman

Co-Founder and President of the Reducetarian Foundation

Brian Kateman is a co-founder of the Reducetarian Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the consumption of animal products. He is the author of Meat Me Halfway — inspired by a documentary of the same name — and the editor of The Reducetarian Cookbook and The Reducetarian Solution.

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