Cassia Seeds in Old Pickle Recipe
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Kelly Bobier
Posted on: July 06, 2007

Do you have cassia seeds?

Which cassia are you looking for? There are many. "Cassia" is a common name for one plant and a latin name for several others. If you don’t know the full latin name for the plant, then tell what it will be used for?

It will be used in an old bread and butter pickle recipe.

Does the recipe call for cassia seeds? Or does it call for ground cassia? The distinction is important. And are you looking for seeds to grow the plant from which cassia comes from?

The recipe calls for cassia seeds. If this works then we will more than likely go for seeds to grow the plant.

In the world of spices, "cassia" refers most often to the cinnamon-like dried bark (Cinnamomum cassia) which is widely used as a spice. But Cassia is also a genus and several species are used in medicine. For example, the seeds of Indian senna, Cassia angustifolia, and of Chinese senna, Cassia tora, are used as a laxative in Indian and Chinese herbal medicine. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) cassia seeds are known as "jue-ming-zi" and are considered an excellent safe and effective laxative, especially in cases of chronic constipation.

According to Stephen Facciola’s "Cornucopia" (Kampong Publications, Vista, 1990), the seeds of at least two Cassia species are edible. He writes that C. tora seeds contain "about 6% protein" and when "roasted or cooked in the pod, are eaten as a side-dish at the rice table." He adds that roasted C. tora seeds are used as a coffee substitute. The seeds of Cassia bicapsularis and C. floribunda from Latin America are used in much the same way. Interestingly, the young shoots and leaves of C. tora and C. floribunda are also steamed and eaten as a potherb served with rice.

I believe that the cassia seeds you are looking for could be C. tora, the Chinese senna. This species is probably the most widely available of the three edible seed types. Though C. tora seeds are laxative I suspect that the laxative effect is very mild when used in small quantities in food. I suspect that when the seeds are used for medicinal purposes the doses are greater than might be used in food. Or, possibly, the roasting process denatures the laxative principle.

I hasten to add that I don’t have enough information to say for sure that the cassia seeds you are looking for are Cassia tora. You should also exercise caution when experimenting with any unfamiliar herb or spice in food, especially one that has a known medicinal effect like C. tora’s laxative effect.

Both Chinese senna (Cassia tora) and Indian senna (Cassia angustifolia) are available from Richters. Please see:

http://www.richters.com/Web_store/web_store.cgi?product=X5385

and

http://www.richters.com/Web_store/web_store.cgi?product=X5386

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