Sweet basil seeds (Ocimum basilicum) are called sabja, tukmaria or falooda seeds in some countries. They are similar to chia seeds, being of the same family but are not interchangeable in most of the recipes.  Chia seeds are larger and harder and they contain more Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids. The tiny black basil seeds are available from most spice shops and are used to make traditional sweet drinks and cool desserts enjoyed by Muslim, Indian and Thai communities. The seeds can also be planted in the garden and they grow into pretty shrubs to provide basil leaves for the kitchen and medicine chest.

The health benefits of basil (sobja) and chia seeds and leaves

Basil is a medicinal herb but it is also a popular culinary herb. We mostly refer to the healing properties of the leaves that are used as folk medicine or the essential oil that comes from them. But not many of us know the secrets about their seeds and how wonderful these are to use in everyday food to help us improve blood sugar, lower cholesterol and relieve constipation. Here are two new ways to bake with basil seeds after soaking them in water for an hour or so.

Basil seeds and leaves


This information is for your interest and should be used without  advice from a practitioner, especially if you are taking any form of medication.The gel around basil seeds may slow down the uptake of a drug if ingested simultaneously.

Please consult your physician, or health care provider before taking any home remedies, supplements or starting a new health regime.

Chia and basil seeds to help control cholesterol, constipation, obesity and appetite

Basil seeds may help to maintain a fuller stomach on fewer calories and slow down the digestion of food it is combined with. This seems to help control blood sugar imbalances and reduces sudden demands on hormones like insulin and glucagon. The sustained sensation of fullness adds to the feeling of relaxation and wellbeing provided by the extra boost of tryptophan.

The seeds aid digestion in many ways and ease stomach cramps, help control microbial/yeast infections and most of all, facilitate a healthy, copious bowel movement. This is due to the way the seeds can retail 10 x their own weight in water in the fibrous gel that is formed. Soaked chia and basil seeds are a valuable bulking agent in the bowel and do not further the fermentation of yeast and sugar. (Observe seeds when soaked in water for many days. There is no fermentation.)

The seeds are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that help to lower the LDL (bad) cholesterol and prevent oxidation.  It can raise the more beneficial HDL levels and help to prevent a build-up of plaque on blood vessels. Basil and chia seeds contain long chain triglycerides and a lot of soluble fibre that also plays a role in controlling LDL (bad) cholesterol. The seeds are said to have an anti-inflammatory action and this helps to keep blood vessels dilated. Some studies show that the basil seeds help with sore throats and respiratory problems, but basil leaves are better for these ailments.

Basil and chia seeds help our neurotransmitters

Basil and chia seeds are rich in tryptophan that is the precursor of essential neurotransmitters like dopamine, GABA, norepinephrine and serotonin. When we exercise these brain-calming neurotransmitters are released. They help us to relax, sleep well and stay happy. When we consume regular amounts of basil seeds; especially before we exercise we get the full advantage of all the feel good effects plus the sustaining and blood sugar balancing qualities that soaked basil seeds provide.


Basil seeds soaked in water

Let’s make yummy basil bread and a mock tapioca steamed pudding

Here are two unique recipes you can make with a few cents worth of basil seeds. These recipes are gluten-free and vegan substitutes are given where necessary. The seeds add a crunchy nip to the texture and in some of the variants we can add sesame seeds, crushed nuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds to enhance this quality.

Make your supply of basil gel in advance – it keeps well

The seed and water mixture can be made in bulk and it keeps well for days at a time, even out of the refrigerator. This gives one a good indication of its antimicrobial effects. After half an hour the basil seeds absorb up to 10% of their initial weight. They swell up and release a fibrous jelly that is rich in natural cellulose. It is of benefit in slowing down digestion and staving off hunger and in the intestines it forms a bulking agent for alleviating constipation. Amazing, for what looks like a glass of frog’s eggs!

Basil gel is a miraculous culinary ingredient and you will soon appreciate how it can substitute for eggs, jelly or tapioca. All the recipes in this series are based on the same soaking ratio.

15 ml (3 teaspoons) basil (sobja/falooda) seeds

250 ml (1 cup) water

The sweet stuff

In this series the use of sugar is kept to a minimum in baking but it seems to be part of the chemistry of a light and fluffy result. For most people a teaspoon or two per serving is not excessive for an occasional treat. Alternatively the sugar can be replaced with xylitol spoon for spoon. If you prefer to use stevia powder or liquid it can be included according to the manufacturer’s directions but it does not always behave in the same way.

Natural syrups such as agave or maple syrup are also suitable for baking but they are less economical for a large extended family. Honey (not for vegans) is never suitable for baking. Heating it to high temperatures destroys the valuable enzymes, amino acids and vitamins it contains. But a spoon of honey or natural syrup gives a lovely finishing touch to a hot steamed pudding.

Do remember that blood sugar levels are maintained with food that is rich in fibre, protein and a little fat. The more spices, the better and especially chillies and cayenne pepper as they are said to help us burn up more fat! It is sugar that is in fact the enemy of blood sugar because of the way it interacts with insulin.

Spicy basil seed flat breads

Basil seed savory crispsFalooda flatbreads and vegetable soup

These flat breads are a healthier alternative to the much-loved Indian chilli bites – those spicy balls of gluten that are deep-fried in trans-fatty acids! The dough mixture can be made a few days in advance and it keeps well in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a few days. They are also a good bread alternative to naan or chapatis that are made from wheat.

Make a few fresh flat breads from your mixture as and when you need them

It is not necessary to cook all the dough immediately. There is nothing nicer than whipping out a few of these flat breads and enjoying them as a fresh, crispy addition to any meal. It is up to you. If you want to make them all at once then they are also fabulous to keep as a bread substitute for lunch boxes or to have as a wholesome snack when you need to perk up your blood sugar.

This recipe makes 8 slices of fake vegan gluten-free high fibre, high protein bread. You will want to keep making these to ease hunger pangs and control constipation and yes – rise above the dilemmas of brain fog. This is healthy tasty food to serve as medicine for the mind and body. It is very economical and the basic recipe can be doubled or increased once you get the hang of it.

Basic recipe for the basil seed flat breads – here we go!

Yield: 8 round breads.

First soak the seeds in water overnight or for a few days in a 1 litre container.

15 ml (3 teaspoons) falooda seeds

250 ml (1 cup) water

The following day

Chop up 1 cup of a selection of: leeks or onions, celery, cilantro, parsley, mustard greens or garlic. Chop them to a very fine mixture.

Add 1 teaspoon of grated fresh ginger and 1 or 2 finely chopped mild chillies.

5 ml ground up: cumin, coriander, mustard seeds and cayenne pepper if you did not use fresh chillies.

2 – 5 ml fine sea salt.

Combine the vegetable mixture with the soaked basil seeds using a fork and add:

30 ml (1 dessert spoon) olive or rice bran oil

125 ml (1/2 cup) rice flour

125 ml (1/2 cup) yellow pea flour (pigeon pea)

5 ml (1 teaspoon) baking powder

1 large egg (vegans can use an egg substitute or add 50 ml fruit juice)

How to cook the flat breads

Spread savoury batter in panTurn ove spread on sesame seeds

Heat up a large flat and preferably no-stick pan on a hot plate on high.

Pour in a little oil and tilt the pan around to form a very thin coating.

Evenly place 4 blobs of the dough mixture in the pan.

Turn down the heat to medium and spread out the mixture with a spatula into 4 smooth thin discs.

Depending on your stove, you may need to lower the temperature while the bread discs firm up and get crispy underneath. Do not rush. This is not the “Amazing Race”. When the breads are ready to be flipped they will be well browned underneath and easy to turn over.

Turn the breads over and allow them to cook on the reverse side. Press them gently with the spatula to make them flatter.

Remove the breads and transfer them directly to your eagerly awaiting guests or allow them to settle down on a wire rack.

Further crisping can take place in a warm oven if you prefer, giving you time to prepare the rest of the meal.

Different things to do with flat breads

Make a single large disc. Scatter the top with sesame seeds and sprinkle oil on top. Rub the surface with a spatula to get it smooth and even. Flip it over and allow the seeds to brown and get snappy. This makes a lovely round cake that can be cut into wedges and served with a soup or vegetable curry.

Add an extra nutty seedy crunch to the basic dough mixture. Blend in a tablespoon or two of crushed walnuts or pecan nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or almonds. This adds to the crunchiness of the basil seeds and makes the flat bread more satisfying and nutritious.


Basil seed steamed pudding with Kiwi fruit

Steamed kiwi fruit and basil seed pudding

The soaked basil seeds look like tapioca, but with a next to zero carbohydrate level and an interesting texture with a snappy bite to it. The sharp tang of the Kiwi fruit complements the fruitiness of the basil seeds. The black Kiwi seeds help to give more identity to the crunch of the basil seeds that may otherwise seem a bit foreign to a steamed pudding.

Preparation of the steamer and dessert

Soak 15 ml of basil seeds in 250 ml water overnight or at least an hour.

There are many ways to steam a pudding. Special counter top steamers are ideal and other items can be cooked at the same time. If you want to try steaming the pudding in an ordinary pot with a steamer attachment then it is more economical to cook vegetables in the boiling water in the lower pot at the same time. Adding a large peeled potato, a carrot and some butternut, for instance will save on electricity. But the biggest advantage is that you can see that the pudding is ready when the potato is soft when poked with a skewer. The steaming takes place at boiling point and you need about 15 – 20 minutes.

Add 5 cm of water to the pot. Assemble it with the steamer and lid. Turn on the hot plate to full. Add 1 whole potato and other large pieces of vegetables of your choice.

Rig up a steamer pot

Steamed pudding with cooked vegetables

Make up the dough mixture

  • 1 (250 ml) cup soaked basil seed mixture. (15 ml seeds to 250 ml water)
  • 15 ml oil
  • 50 ml brown sugar (or sweetener of your choice – see notes at the beginning of this recipe series)
  • 100 ml rice flour
  • 5 ml baking powder
  • 1 Kiwi fruit peeled and chopped

Take a 500 ml glass or ceramic bowl and rub it with oil or butter

Add the pudding mixture and cover the bowl with a saucer

Place it in the steamer and boil for 15 – 20 minutes

Turn off the heat and allow it to stand for an hour to firm up

Don’t forget the vegetables! The vegetables can be blended into a soup or vegetable purée. Combine the vegetables and some of their water with sea salt, a vegan stock cube, curry spices and tomato paste to make a quick soup to enjoy with the flat breads.

Serving suggestions: fig jam or thin out with milk

Steamed basil seed pudding fig jamSofter steamed pudding with basil seeds

Turn out the pudding on a plate and cover the top with slices of peeled Kiwi fruit. Alternatively, pour maple syrup or honey over the top and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Fig jam and stewed apple also go well with the pudding.

Serve with cream or custard. (Vegetarians can use rice milk and coconut cream to make custard.)

The cold pudding is a bit heavy and sticky. It can be warmed up and mixed with a little milk to thin it out to be more like a traditional rice pudding – but with a hint of fruitiness. Add some cinnamon for a nostalgic touch.

A final wrap

These two basic recipes can be used for bread replacements and to make a satisfying fake tapioca pudding. They have a low-fat content and are suitable for a gluten-free vegetarian diet. Vegans can use the suggested egg and dairy product replacements. In the second article about basil seeds I will share some delicious recipes for vegan jelly, smoothies, health drinks and puddings. As usual, we try to cut out sugar and keep it all real skinny!


Thai Sweet Basil Seed - 2 oz
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(price as of Aug 6, 2013)