Basil seeds aren’t just for growing basil plants — you can also eat them.
They look similar to sesame seeds but are black. The type that you eat typically comes from sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum, which is the plant commonly used to season foods.
For this reason, the seeds are typically referred to as sweet basil seeds. They also go by many other names, including sabja and tukmaria seeds.
Basil seeds have a long history of use in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, but their health effects have only been tested in a few studies.
Here are 12 fascinating benefits and uses of basil seeds.
Based on U.S. product nutrition labels, 1 tablespoon (13 grams or 0.5 ounces) of basil seeds supplies 15% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for calcium and 10% of the RDI for magnesium and iron.
Calcium and magnesium are essential for your bone health and muscle function, while iron is vital for red blood cell production (1).
Many people don’t get enough calcium and magnesium through their diet. Eating basil seeds could help you reach your daily needs of these nutrients.
Additionally, basil seeds could be an important source of iron and calcium for people who don’t eat meat or dairy products (2).
Just 1 tablespoon (0.5 ounces or 13 grams) of basil seeds is a good source of iron, calcium, and magnesium — which could help fill important shortfalls in your diet.
Basil seeds are high in fiber, particularly soluble fiber, including pectin (3, 4).
Here are some ways the fiber in basil seeds may benefit your health:
- Helps you meet your fiber quota. Just 1 tablespoon (13 grams or 0.5 ounces) of basil seeds supplies 7 grams of fiber — 25% of the RDI. Only about 5% of Americans eat enough fiber (5, 6).
- May support gut health. Test-tube studies suggest that pectin has prebiotic benefits, meaning it may nourish and increase beneficial gut bacteria. This may include anti-inflammatory bacteria that support gut health (7, 8, 9).
- May help you feel full. Pectin may delay stomach emptying and increase hormone levels that promote a sense of fullness. Still, it’s uncertain whether eating basil seeds to curb appetite is an effective weight loss strategy (4, 10).
- May aid blood sugar control. When people with type 2 diabetes ate 10 grams (3/4 tablespoon) of basil seeds in water after each meal for a month, their post-meal blood sugar was 17% lower than at the start of the study (11).
- May improve cholesterol. Pectin may lower blood cholesterol by inhibiting cholesterol absorption in your gut. People who ate 30 grams (7 teaspoons) of basil seeds daily for one month had an 8% drop in total cholesterol (4, 7).
Due to a lack of recent scientific research on basil seeds, more studies are needed to confirm these health benefits.
Basil seeds contain soluble fiber, which may promote gut health, blood sugar control, healthy cholesterol levels, and appetite control. However, more research in these areas is needed.
The fibrous, pectin-rich gum from basil seeds could be a valuable ingredient in the food industry, as it’s flavorless and can help thicken and stabilize mixtures (12, 13, 14).
For example, it can stabilize ice cream and reduce the growth of unwanted ice crystals by 30–40% compared to standard ice cream formulations (15).
Basil seed gum can also stabilize salad dressing, low-fat whipped cream, and jellies, as well as serve as a fat replacement in yogurt and mayonnaise (16, 17).
Home cooks can also use these seeds to thicken recipes like desserts, soups, and sauces.
In the food industry, the pectin-rich gum from basil seeds can help thicken and stabilize food mixtures like salad dressings and ice cream. It can be used at home as well.
Basil seeds are rich in plant compounds, including flavonoids and other polyphenols.
Flavonoids are antioxidants, meaning they protect your cells from damage by free radicals. These plant compounds also have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties (18, 19, 20).
Several observational studies link higher flavonoid intake to reduced heart disease risk (21, 22).
Additionally, in a test-tube study, basil seed extract killed harmful bacteria and triggered the death of cancer cells (20).
However, research on the potential health benefits of basil seeds is lacking. These benefits haven’t been tested in people, nor with whole seeds.
Basil seeds are rich in plant compounds, including flavonoids, which may provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anticancer benefits. However, human studies are needed.
Basil seeds have long been used in drinks in India and Southeast Asia.
A popular cold beverage-like dessert in India is falooda, made with basil seeds, rose-flavored syrup, and milk. Some versions add ice cream, noodles, or fruit.
Additionally, a few food manufacturers in the United States and Europe now sell bottled beverages made with basil seeds.
The seeds make the drinks a bit chewy and add plenty of healthy fiber — something beverages typically lack.
Basil seeds have long been a popular ingredient in drinks in India and Southeast Asia. Now other parts of the world — including the United States — are starting to sell bottled basil seed beverages, which are rich in healthy fiber.
Basil seeds contain an average of 2.5 grams of fat per 1-tablespoon (13-gram or 0.5-ounce) serving. This varies based on the growing conditions (17, 23).
Of this fat, about half — 1,240 mg per tablespoon — is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat.
There’s no RDI for ALA, but 1,100 mg or 1,600 mg per day for women and men, respectively, is considered an adequate intake of this essential fatty acid (2, 24).
Therefore, just one tablespoon of basil seeds could meet most — or even all — of your daily need for ALA.
Your body primarily uses ALA to produce energy. It may also have anti-inflammatory benefits and reduce your risk of certain conditions, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes (24, 25, 26, 27).
Just 1 tablespoon (13 grams or 0.5 ounces) of basil seeds could supply most or all of your daily need for ALA omega-3 fat.
Basil seeds are a little larger than chia seeds but have a similar nutritional profile.
Here’s how 1 tablespoon (13 grams or 0.5 ounces) of the seeds compare (28):
|Basil seeds||Chia seeds|
|Total fat||2.5 grams||3 grams|
|Omega-3 fat||1,240 mg||2,880 mg|
|Total carbs||7 grams||5 grams|
|Dietary fiber||7 grams||5 grams|
|Protein||2 grams||3 grams|
|Calcium||15% of the RDI||8% of the RDI|
|Iron||10% of the RDI||9% of the RDI|
|Magnesium||10% of the RDI||8% of the RDI|
The most notable nutritional differences are that chia seeds contain more than twice the omega-3 fat but a little less fiber compared to basil seeds.
Chia seeds and basil seeds swell and form a gel when soaked. However, basil seeds swell quicker and to a larger size than chia seeds.
Both seeds have a bland flavor, so they can be used in many of the same recipes like smoothies and baked goods.
Chia seeds can also be eaten dry — for example, sprinkled on a salad — while basil seeds typically aren’t eaten dry, as they’re hard to chew.
Basil seeds and chia seeds both form a gel when soaked and are nutritionally similar. However, chia seeds contain twice as much omega-3 fat but a little less fiber than basil seeds.
You can buy basil seeds in Asian food stores and online — search for edible basil seeds. Seeds packaged for planting typically cost more per ounce and may have been treated with pesticides.
To eat basil seeds, you generally start by soaking them.
Soaking the Seeds
To soak basil seeds, add 8 ounces (237 ml or 1 cup) of water per 1 tablespoon (13 grams or 0.5 ounces) of basil seeds.
Use more water if desired, as the seeds only absorb as much as needed. Using too little water may cause the seeds to clump as they hydrate.
Let the seeds soak for about 15 minutes. As the seeds swell, they approximately triple in size. Additionally, the gel-like outer portion turns gray.
The center of a soaked basil seed remains black. This part has a light crunch when you chew it — similar to tapioca.
Strain the soaked basil seeds and add them to your recipe. If a recipe contains a lot of liquid, such as soup, pre-soaking is unnecessary.
Ways to Use Them
You can find recipes online that include basil seeds. Their bland flavor blends easily in dishes.
For example, you can use basil seeds in:
- lemonade and other drinks
- salad dressings
- hot cereal like oatmeal
- whole-grain pancakes
- whole-grain pasta dishes
- bread and muffins
When using basil seeds in baked goods, you can grind them and use them to replace part of the flour rather than adding them soaked.
Alternately, you can use soaked basil seeds to replace eggs in baked goods. Use 1 tablespoon (13 grams or 0.5 ounces) of basil seeds soaked in 3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces or 45 ml) of water to replace 1 egg.
You can buy edible basil seeds in Asian food stores and online. Soak the seeds in water before use or grind them. Try them in baked goods, hot cereal, beverages, or smoothies.
The high fiber content of basil seeds may cause digestive side effects like bloating. It’s generally best to increase fiber intake gradually to give your gut time to adjust (6).
Additionally, one basil seed supplier claims that the seeds provide 185% of the RDI for vitamin K per tablespoon (0.5 ounces or 13 grams).
Vitamin K aids blood clotting. Therefore, eating basil seeds could interfere with warfarin and similar blood-thinning drug treatments (29, 30).
Increase your intake of basil seeds slowly to give your gut time to adjust to the fiber. Note that the high vitamin K content of the seeds could interfere with blood-thinning drugs like warfarin.
Basil seeds are high in fiber, a good source of minerals, rich in plant-based omega-3 fat, and plentiful in beneficial plant compounds.
You can eat them after soaking them in liquid. Basil seed beverages have long been popular in India and Southeast Asia and are now catching on in the United States as well.
If you enjoy trying new healthy food trends, check Asian food stores or online for edible basil seeds.