While chia seeds are just gaining ground as the next darling of the superfood world for their high omega-3 fatty acid, vegetarian protein and fiber content, they’re already being overshadowed by another superseed: perilla.
The perilla is a staple food in many Asian cultures. It’s also known as shisho or beefsteak (the leaf) and the seed contains a higher concentration of fatty acids-as much as 40-45 percent oil-while the chia seed clocks in at a still-impressive 30-32 percent. Perilla is higher in ALA content (alpha-Linolenic acid)-containing as much as 60 percent of the healthy fat where chia seeds contain only about half of that. The perilla seed’s omega-fatty acid ratio is 6:1 omega-3s to omega-6 fatty acids; that’s the highest ratio of 3 to 6 of any known seed.
Diets high in omega-6 fatty acids, which are common in vegetable oils (think fried fast-food), have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, obesity and other inflammation-related illnesses including arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. People suffering from or at risk of developing inflammation-related illnesses are often advised to increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids. An ideal healthy diet, contains a more closely balanced ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6s (most like the oils found in hemp seeds). But with the spread of the Western diet leaving a trail of inflammation in its wake, more and more people are looking at ways to increase their omega-3 fatty acids.
Unlike the chia seed, which can stay stable for a long period of time, the perilla seed is more delicate, particularly because of its high lipid content. This means it needs to be pressed sooner, so you’re most likely to find already pressed perilla seed oil or supplements available at your local health-minded market rather than the whole seeds (although some Asian markets do carry the seeds).
Perilla may also be a healthy choice for another reason: chia seeds are becoming more challenging to get on the market as Western demand outpaces production. Perilla seeds are also less expensive than chia (or even flax seeds, another high omega-3 fatty acid seed), making them an economical choice for people seeking to add healthy omega fats to their diet.