Well, they ARE seeds...
June 27, 2009 6:09 AM   Subscribe

Are culinary seeds and beans (whole spices, dried peas, etc.) treated to prevent germination?

All these items are, after all, seeds. Are the ones you can purchase in a typical American grocery store able to germinate, or are they treated to prevent that?

If so, is this regulated by the USDA or other gov't body?

I have had some success sowing whole spice seeds in the garden, mainly corriander and fenugreek. But, some of these came from an Indian grocery store which seems to have different distribution channels.

There is often a huge difference in price when compared to seeds actually grown for gardening.

BTW I'm not suggesting this is a good practice for gardeners. It's more for amusement.
posted by werkzeuger to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I know non-organic potatoes are treated to keep them from germinating, but you can use organic potatoes as seeds.
posted by argybarg at 6:29 AM on June 27, 2009

Someone no doubt more knowledgeable than I will comment, but I believe the answer is - at least in Australia - some are some aren't. I know some seeds, etc. are treated with radiation or ultraviolet of some description to stop this, however the majority I believe are not. Hence you can buy wheat to sprout etc.
posted by smoke at 6:46 AM on June 27, 2009

It depends if they were dried or if they were cooked/roasted. I've purchased bags of popcorn kernels and dried beans from the store and successfully grew them in my back yard en masse.
As a general rule of thumb, roasting will kill the seed, but drying them or keeping them in the refrigerator will not. So, you probably won't be able to grow, say, a peanut tree because commercial peanuts are generally roasted for taste.

Dried peas or dried green beans sound like something you could grow.
posted by nikkorizz at 7:24 AM on June 27, 2009

Earlier this year I dropped some cranberry beans from a store-brand bag in a pot of dirt after soaking them overnight, and now they've put out several flowers and pods. The plants seem kind of stunted, and the pods aren't very big either (I have picked just one so far this year, and I made nouvelle cuisine: Salad of Two Beans), but that may just be my sad lack of gardening-fu.
posted by casarkos at 7:39 AM on June 27, 2009

It's also good to keep in mind that all dried seeds will eventually die if they are left out on the store shelves or in your cabinets for too long. Furthermore, some seeds are more picky than others and will die out more quickly if not stored in a cool dry place. Don't quote me on this, but I'd like to think that most seeds can last at least a year from the time they fall off the plant, so if you have reason to believe that your bag of seeds is a bit older than that, know that the success rate per seed will drop.
posted by nikkorizz at 7:52 AM on June 27, 2009

argybarg writes "I know non-organic potatoes are treated to keep them from germinating, but you can use organic potatoes as seeds."

This isn't universal, half the potatoes in my garden this year are from a bag of supermarket russets that started sprouting.
posted by Mitheral at 9:03 AM on June 27, 2009

I've a garden bed covered with a summer cover-crop of millet that I decided was too old to eat. I'd estimate 90% germination.

I've grown dill from seeds left over from a friend's pickling mix. The mustard seeds grew as well, but the germination rate was abysmal. Pinto beans sprouted after being soaked and forgotten on the counter in a bowl. Didn't plant them. The season's too short here to grow pintos.

Poppy seeds grow.
posted by reflecked at 11:24 AM on June 27, 2009

I've done this a lot. I even had a romaine lettuce head grow - I put it in the ground, eventually it flowered, I got seeds, and planted them, and planted their children seeds... but my climate's not that great for lettuce.

Have also grown carrot tops to the point of having seeds, then planted the seeds (again, it's too hot here for really good carrots in the summer).

We've also sprouted beans, and I've had lentils sprout when I've left them soaking too long.

However, many agricultural crops are hybrid varieties, so their offspring can be much different from the parent plant - i.e. drastically lower yields, general weirdness (color, shape).
posted by amtho at 11:40 AM on June 27, 2009

We're avid gardeners, and usually buy specific varieties of seeds. But we always use plain old coriander seeds for our cilantro.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:45 AM on June 27, 2009

I accidently bought some beans from seedsavers that were intended to be eaten. I wondered why the packages were so large, but they were labeled "Eating Beans" on the website and I thought that meant, "These will grow into very tasty beans." Then I got the bags and it was like "Cooking Instructions:..."

Anyway, I planted them, and they grew. Quite well, actually. SSE claims though that the beans sold for eating by them are necessarily going to breed true, I think.
posted by jeb at 1:45 PM on June 27, 2009

No they are not treated. There's no reason to spend money on steam sterilization when any home growing of seeds is unlikely to make a dent in their business model. The reason packaged seeds for gardens cost more is because they often are grown for a specific season, and are dated as such to ensure seed that has the best chance of germination. It also costs more to package many small items- that's why bulk pricing for just about anything is always cheaper. There is also the cost of information- when you buy seeds, you are paying for R&D by the seed company, and/or for their right to distribute the seed of patented varieties. Additionally, legumes are treated with an inoculant to improve germination and yield, which seeds in the grocery store don't have.

BTW I'm not suggesting this is a good practice for gardeners. It's more for amusement.

Why not? If people want to grow seeds, they should grow them. It doesn't matter where they come from if people are willing to accept that they may not be fresh, true to type, organic, or appropriate varieties for their climate.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:20 PM on June 28, 2009

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