Parts of the Seed

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
All of our food seeds consist of three basic parts: an outer protective coat, a small embryonic portion capable of growing into the mature plant, and a large mass of storage tissue that contains proteins, carbohydrates, and oils to feed the embryo. Each part influences the texture and flavor of the cooked seeds.

The outer protective coat, called the bran in grains and the seed coat in legumes and nuts, is a dense sheet of tough, fibrous tissue. It’s rich in defensive or camouflaging phenolic compounds, including anthocyanin pigments and astringent tannins. And it slows the passage of water into grains and legumes during cooking. It’s often removed from grains (especially rice and barley), legumes (notably in Indian dals), and nuts (almonds, chestnuts) to speed the cooking and obtain a more refined appearance, texture, and flavor.