Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Seed's Pocket of Power

Birdseed Boxing Ring
Right outside our dining room window sits a bird feeder.  When I placed it out there, I envisioned serene moments watching nature's beauty.  As it turns out, it’s a bit more like watching Ultimate Fight Club.  Songbirds are surprisingly violent.  Don’t let their pretty colors fool you, it’s nothing more than war paint.  My dining room observations have revealed that even meek sparrows have a mean streak when the feeder is full.  I can’t imagine getting so worked up about seeds.  Having crunched down on my fair share of unpopped popcorn kernels, I can attest to the fact that seed-eating is no picnic.  My teeth can’t take much of that abuse.  Obviously these birds have never tried a Twix bar.  If one must fight to the death over food, it really ought to be oozing with caramel and covered in chocolate. 

In reality, though, when true hunger is an issue, we could teach birds a thing or two about violence.  And believe it or not, much of the fighting would be over seeds.  The human population easily consumes more seed than birds and I'm not just talking about sunflower-seed-spitting baseball players, or granola-baking vegans.  Worldwide, seed comprises two-thirds of the human diet.  Even hulking, red-blooded Americans who live on cheeseburgers, pizza and beer (and only use fiber as a punchline) are hardcore seed eaters.  The secret is in seed's pocket of power.     

Last week I compared seeds to suitcases packed for the trip to germination.  Personally, I never pack for a journey without tucking in some ‘goodies’.  Chips, apples, string cheese, Twix bars, you know, the essentials.  As it turns out, seeds pack a goody bag of their own.  Within each seed lies more than just an embryo.  Tucked in alongside it is a pocket of starchy, nutrient-rich material called endosperm. Like a horticultural Five Hour Energy shot, it provides potent power for the embryo.  Without it, there would be no 'juice' to fuel germination.  After sprouting, roots and leaves will provide a food source, but until then, endosperm is essential.  As it turns out, it's our favorite part of the seed. 

Consider one seed’s example: we remove the seed coat (bran) and the embryo (germ) and then process wheat’s endosperm into white flour.  (Grinding the germ and the bran in with it creates whole wheat flour.)  Just think, without endosperm, there would be no Panera Bread!  I shudder to think of it.  If that doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, consider a world without Uncle Ben, Orville Redenbacher, Almond Joy or Budweiser.  Yes, indeed, all of those rely on endosperm in the form of rice, popcorn, coconut and barley.

With the holidays approaching, I'm already anticipating plates piled high with pure deliciousness.  Without seeds, what would my plate have on it?  Cookies, breads and rolls would be out of the picture, with their flour-based recipes.  Pumpkin pie?  Kiss that crust good-bye.  You might not miss those lumps in your gravy, but without cornstarch (a.k.a. endosperm) you wouldn't have any gravy.  The Atkins Plan might approve, but the holidays would lose some tantalizing luster with this seedless, low-carb diet.  Endosperm might not be covered in chocolate and oozing with caramel, but I guess the birds were right.  Its something worth fighting for.  

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