Nasturtium Seeds -V- Black Pepper

Today it finally happened. The inevitable has finally become a  reality. Yes folks, we have run out of black pepper.

I saw it coming but it has still come as a shock. I tried making preparations for it a week ago, searching the net in the vain hope of finding a UK grower. Reaching many dead-ends I gave up and then began looking for possible substitutes for black pepper. All of the traditional substitutes are no good to us as things, like papaya seeds and grains of paradise, cannot be or are-not  grown in this country. However, I posed this question to our Twitter followers and was buoyed by the revelation that nasturtium seed were used as a substitute during the Second World War.

Earlier today I finally got down to the garden center and bought 2 types of nasturtium seeds. Excitedly, I rushed home quickly and threw them in the pestle and mortar and began grinding. The first taste was not bad, almost a radish-like heat. Not really similar to black pepper, more vegetable type flavors than peppery notes. The aftertaste however was really bitter and unpalatable. It was also somewhat difficult to grind so I wondered if it required further processing.

The next stage was to toast them. Putting them in a dry frying pan I noticed that they did not release an oil like cumin would and very little aroma came from the pan. Tasting the results of this process was another disappointment. Any flavor (good or bad) had now disappeared and what I had made was essentially grit.

One more try.  This time putting the seeds in a hot oven. I set the heat to 200c and left them while I cleared the yard. 10 minutes later Emily called me in complaining of a strange smell. Indeed, our kitchen stank! The smell was very similar in fragrance to that of an old mans trousers. I am not just saying this for comical effect, there really was a stale urine and musk smell emanating from my oven.

I would like it noted that a lesser-man might have given up at this point. However, I continued to grind them up in the same fashion. They ground really easily this time and even looked like black pepper. The flavor again was atrocious. In fact it tasted like it smelled.

It was obvious at this point that the seeds were most palatable in their original form and I wondered if they needed other ingredients to work properly. I had made a squash soup by this point for the whole family and so sprinkled liberally over the top (just mine – Emily was not game). Thankfully the result was not inedible, but I also think that the nasturtium seeds added nothing  beneficial to the experience.

In conclusion, nasturtium seeds are a very pale substitute for black pepper. I would rather live without black pepper than eat it again. So for now we are without black pepper or any viable alternative.

To add insult to injury, I got one of the bits of nasturtium seed stuck in my back molar and have been tasting that bitter urine flavor all day. Yuk!

– James





  1. James, I eat a lot of nuts and seeds and I find bitterness is often caused by the enzyme inhibitors on them. What’s that I hear you say? Well, in order to stop the seed germinating just ‘whenever’, the plant puts these substances on the seed so it doesn’t just sprout because it’s fallen to the ground.

    If you soak the seeds and then drain the water after about 4 – 6 hours you’ll notice the water is dark. You can then dry the seeds and the flavour will be much less bitter.

    For nuts, you’d need to soak them at least 24 hours, changing the water several times and some seeds need longer than others to loose all the bitterness, although seeds are generally quicker than nuts.

    I dry my seeds using a dehydrator because I follow a raw food diet so I’m trying to dry them without heating but as you’re not I’m sure you could dry them on a tray in the oven, either at low heat or with the door slightly open so they don’t get roasted.

    Admittedly, I’ve never tried it with nasturtium seeds only sunflower, pumpkin, walnut, cashew, hazel, pine, pecan and other such common edible nuts and seeds. But seeing your struggles I thought I might chip in as it might help you get through the year in a bit tastier a fashion!

  2. Don’t know if this is helpful, but with all my many food trials over the years (trying to resolve health problems) I’ve found doing something completely different is usually better than substituting. Ie eating food that doesn’t require milk rather than suffering the horror that is soya milk. So on that note, I would rather have ground coriander seed, nigella seed or even seagreens culinary ingredient (a rather nutty seaweed in granules) on my food than pepper substitute. The former two you can grow yourself and the latter is British. Good luck with the challenge. Rather tempted to join you.

  3. Cynthia says

    Love the blog…I’m working my way through it. Saw the news item this morning and I like you would like to buy British. Just one tiny thing though, please use British spellings…eg. centre.
    Keep up the good work

    Mrs S

  4. If you are looking for that spicy kick you get from black pepper how about trying a small amount of ground chilli or use chilli salt. You should be able to find someone growing them in the uk eg the Wiltshire chilli farm. And this summer you can grow your own -I find home- grown, dried and then ground (in a coffee grinder I keep specially for the purpose!) chillies makes excellent chilli powder.
    Good luck!

  5. Christine speroni says

    I found a blog about using dried nasturtium leaves. I’m planning to give this a try myself this year.

  6. I am sure that you should not eat seeds sold commercially for growing. They undoubtably have been treated with chemicals. The seed wheat that farmers sow is poisonous and it is dyed red so you can tell. They are coated in fungicides.

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