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What Can You Do with Chia Seeds? Plenty!

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
6/23/2011 9:00 AM   :  90 comments   :  92,663 Views

Mother knows best. Back in 2005, my mom starting telling me about this "amazing" seed that was great for health. She added it to smoothies, granola, breads, and just about everything else. Flax, I quickly learned, was versatile and an easy way to integrate those heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids into my diet.

But as much as I love flax for its nutritional benefits (fiber, lignans, the aforementioned Omega3s and protein), there are a couple of caveats when using it in recipes:

Flax must be ground for our bodies to process it. Whole flaxseeds pass through the body undigested, meaning they're only providing us with fiber. If a product contains whole flaxseeds and boasts that it's a great source of Omega-3s, it's like they gave you a treasure chest but forgot to give you the key! Sure, those heart-healthy fats are in there, but they are locked inside the seeds.

Their nutty flavor is tasty but hard to disguise, which makes it difficult for it to blend in to the background in a recipe.

A couple of years ago, I discovered a food that's become as much of a staple in my kitchen as flax (which I still use almost daily and love!). This seed is a bit harder to find and perhaps slightly more expensive, but it's a great product that I love to use.
What is it? It's chia seed. (Also called salba.)

**crickets**

You know, like Ch-ch-chia? (Rings a bell now, doesn't it?) As in Chia Pets? Those terra cotta sculptures that grow "hair" use the same seeds that grace my morning smoothies and afternoon "puddings."

What is Chia?

Chia seeds are tiny (about a millimeter in diameter) and come in black and white varieties. The seeds have a mottled appearance, with areas of gray, brown, black, and white. When wet, they more than triple in size, with a clear bubble surrounding the seed, due to the soluble fiber.

The white ones are sometimes called "salba." Some companies say the white seeds (salba) are better for you (and therefore worth a heftier price tag), but chia expert Dr. Wayne Coates, a retired professor of agricultural engineering, says that black and white seeds are equally good for you. On his website, he says: "if anything the black has more antioxidants. The black seeds, just as with dark fruits, are higher in antioxidants. Both seeds contain essentially the same amount of omega-3, protein, fiber, etc."

The plant is a member of the mint family and hails from Mexico and Guatemala, though seeds are also produced in the US. Chia seeds were among the four staples of the ancient Aztec diet staples: corn, chia, amaranth, and beans. According to Dr. Coates, chia fell out of favor as a commercial crop after the conquest of the Aztecs, but the seeds of wild plants were still eaten by locals. In the 1990s, Dr. Coates' efforts at the University of Arizona led to resurgence in domesticated chia seeds, starting in northern Argentina.

Chia Nutrition

One tablespoon of chia has, according to SparkPeople's Nutrition Tracker:
  • Calories 46.0
  • Total Fat 4.0 g
    • Saturated Fat 0.0 g      
    • Polyunsaturated Fat 4.0 g      
    • Monounsaturated Fat 0.0 g      
    • Trans Fat 0.0 g  
  • Cholesterol 0.0 mg  
  • Sodium 0.0 mg  
  • Potassium 0.0 mg  
  • Total Carbohydrate 4.0 g      
  • Dietary Fiber 4.0 g      
  • Sugars 0.0 g  
  • Protein 3.0 g
  • Calcium 8.6 %  
  • Iron 5.6 %  
  • Magnesium 11.0 %
Chia has*:
  • more Omega-3's than salmon
  • more dietary fiber than flax or oats
  • more antioxidants than blueberries
  • more magnesium than broccoli
  • more antioxidants than oranges
  • more calcium than milk
  • more iron than spinach
*compared with an equal amount of the other foods listed

For more information on the Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acid in chia, click here.

Remember when I said that chia more than triples in size when placed in water. That's because chia is hydrophilic. Unlike what happens when you eat too much salt or your hormones kick in, this is a positive trait, as long as you're drinking adequate fluids. Ancient Aztecs and modern athletes use(d) this to their advantage.

If you eat dry chia, it will absorb water in your stomach, which can cause cramping if you eat too much. However, if your chia has already been soaked in a liquid, you will be consuming extra water, which will be released into your system as the chia is digested. (Chia can be digested whole, remember?) For this reason, chia seeds are a frequent addition to homemade sports drinks and are consumed with water as "chia fresca" in Mexico.

In his book "Born to Run," Christopher McDougall shared the story of the Tarahumara tribe from Mexico, who fuel with chia water (chia fresca) while running 100-mile ultramarathons.

Culinary Uses of Chia

Chia's soluble fiber and hydrophilic nature can be used to your advantage in the kitchen. Adding chia will thicken and bind dishes like jams, puddings, and smoothies. The chia seeds take about 20 minutes to absorb water and work their thickening magic.Note: You can also grind chia seeds in a coffee grinder. They thicken even faster, and the seeds won't get stuck in your teeth if they're ground!

Smoothie thickener: Stir into a smoothie before serving. The tiny seeds stick to the sides of the blender, so I put them straight into the glass to reduce clean up.

Egg substitute: Mix one tablespoon of chia seeds (keep whole or grind) with three tablespoons of water. Let sit for 20 minutes, then use in place of one egg in quick breads and cakes.

Pudding: Mix 1/4 cup chia seeds with 1 cup milk (I like coconut milk, chocolate almond milk, or vanilla soymilk). Let sit for 30 minutes, stirring with a fork every five minutes or so. If you love tapioca pudding, you'll love this! Get creative. Try lemon (add zest or two lemons to vanilla soymilk), pumpkin (add 1/4 cup pumpkin to the mix, plus a bit of sweetener and pumpkin pie spice), or strawberry (add 1/4 cup pureed berries and sweeten to taste).

Jams + jellies: Mix 1/4 cup chia seeds with 2 cups pureed fruit and sweeten to taste. Let sit for 30 minutes. Voila. A no-cook all-fruit spread.

Where to Buy and How to Store Chia:

Don't eat the seeds that came with your Chia Pet!

Chia seeds are available online, in bulk bins, and in the health food section of most larger supermarkets. Buy them in smaller quantities, the amount you intend to use in a month or two. As with any seeds or grains, you'll want to store them in a cool, dry place.

Because Omega-3 fatty acids are quite delicate and susceptible to spoilage, I store mine in the refrigerator.

So that's chia. Will you try it? Have you?
 

This article was approved by SparkPeople Healthy Eating Expert Tanya Jolliffe.


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Comments

  • REDB544
    90
    I just want to know if I can add the seeds (without "plumping" them) directly to food - like spinkles? Also could they be used as a thickener for gravy?
    My husband & I tried them plumped by plain water - yuck! Felt like we eating caviar without any flavor!!!

    - 1/24/2014   10:17:28 AM
  • 89
    I have been using Chia seed for now 3 weeks and I put it in my water bottle about 1 to 2 tsp. and drink 2 bottles a day and so far have lost 2 lbs on it. I have been regular with bowels and have felt real good since I have been on it. I also sprinkles 1 tsp. on cereal, oatmeal. and yourgurt too.
    - 1/20/2014   8:56:55 PM
  • 88
    I like the chia pudding and chia fresca ideas! I'm a huge fan of lightly flavored water infusions (cucumber water...yum!) so I'm really looking forward to trying chia fresca. I drink so much water during the day and often wake up a bit thirsty, and I'm wondering if chia fresca might be a way to help that problem. The pudding just looks yummy. I've used chia seeds to thicken dips, soups, sauces, and the like, and I'm glad to find a few new uses for it. Thanks! - 1/15/2014   3:17:49 PM
  • 87
    This is so cool. I'm going to add chia seeds to my chocolate almond milk. Didn't know they sub for eggs. Will try that. Will try in smoothies. And we make our own jam in the summer from our berries. Will make a note to do that next summer. I'm new to chia seeds but have them in my home. I bought them for a recipe but with all this info, I don't need to bake! Mine are going from the cupboard to the frig right now. - 11/14/2013   10:00:54 AM
  • 86
    I am going to try the chia pudding. - 11/8/2013   5:01:41 AM
  • 85
    thumbs up on this one SPARK PEOPLE. It is only on rare occasions that I blog on an article. As you may know there are plenty of good to great articles on this website. I am pleased with this one, since I have learned so much new about CHIA seeds.. I have been purchasing it off and on, however, its a bit pricey for my usual purchases.. I purchase this some times along with the hemp seeds... both are great.. thank you SPARK PEOPLE for this informative article!! - 11/6/2013   11:48:41 PM
  • 84
    I use it all the time..........good for you....... - 9/27/2013   5:24:49 PM
  • BIGLOSER2012
    83
    Thank you! I was finding them in my Oatmeal as I was reading you post; they looked like little halo's were around them. Great news on how to unlock the water. - 9/18/2013   10:10:01 AM
  • JENONEITA
    82
    I've been putting them in my 'refrigerator oatmeal'. They do thicken up nicely. I never thought to use them to make puddings! I never knew they could be so versatile. Thanks for 'something new' learned for today! - 8/19/2013   3:33:50 PM
  • 81
    I'm giving chia seeds a try! I'll have to do some more research about the absorption of whole flaxseed - I thought I had read somewhere on Sparkpeople that the whole flaxseed was better for you than the ground version... hmmm.. BTW - another benefit of chia seeds that I've heard about is there "zing" (i.e., energy booster) - 7/27/2013   9:00:47 AM
  • 80
    I was drinking my chia seeds cause I read it takes the bad fats out of your body so it doesn't let you absorb them. But I wasn't sure about if cooking them would not let them do there job. Since I read this it sounds like you can cook pretty much do anything with them and they'll still do their job. :) I definitely want to try them in pudding :) and other ideas listed! - 7/9/2013   9:17:26 PM
  • 79
    I love to add them to thick smoothies (thin ones make swallowing the seeds more difficult) and unsweetened applesauce. Sidenote: Does this mean we could have ate our Chia Pets as children?? Hmmm - 6/22/2013   2:41:44 PM
  • 78
    I tried the "pudding" a couple times. Made it with chocolate soy milk, and then mixed blueberries in. It took WAY longer than the 30 minutes to set up to a proper pudding consistency (maybe it works faster if you really stir it every 5 minutes, but with a toddler, I just couldn't make that work).

    It was REALLY tasty, though! Definitely going to keep making this. :) - 6/12/2013   3:37:18 PM
  • 77
    Just bought some last night and got on Spark to look for more info/ideas. I had a tablespoon in my oatmeal this morning and it was great! - 5/9/2013   9:40:51 AM
  • MOMMYMEE1
    76
    Love chia...use it daily...thanks for additional ideas. Great in eggs..... - 4/29/2013   9:16:16 AM
  • PHILJANE
    75
    I also use them to make smoothies & they do stick to the side of the blender, like the idea of adding them to the glass/cup/water bottle just before drinking the smoothie, also add them to oatmeal but eat it right away so I don't have a problem with them gelling up. Like the idea of chia pudding though & will try it today - 3/7/2013   1:22:11 PM
  • 74
    I'll have to add chia seeds to my next grocery list. - 2/12/2013   10:03:40 PM
  • 73
    I didn't know that we don't digest Flax seeds. I've been putting my Flax and Chia Seeds on top of my smoothie and using a spoon to mix and eat them. I'll have to grind my Flax seeds. I wonder if my coffee grinder would work for that. - 2/12/2013   7:40:19 PM
  • PUGGYBUG
    72
    Mixing chia seed into glass after making smoothie is good to know. I would put them directly into the blender and yes it is difficult to get them all out and into the glass. - 12/2/2012   6:39:19 AM
  • 22SASSY
    71
    I add to milk chia,cinnamin, and vanilla and let sit overnite in fridge.
    It becomes pudding like. thrilled to know i can use as egg sub. - 6/28/2012   3:36:26 AM
  • 70
    I love chia, I add it to my yogurt and it gives it a nice lite crunchy texture - 11/2/2011   3:49:24 PM
  • 69
    I've tried them once, they are a little slimy. :0) but not bad. How much do you put in a 16 oz bottle of water per se??? I would love to add them to my morning runs! Thanks!! - 7/5/2011   9:55:40 PM
  • SAMMMYJO
    68
    Thanks for the recipes. I've been looking for a way to get them into my diet. - 7/2/2011   3:53:11 PM
  • SHAYLAB19
    67
    Love this post! I just bought chia seeds and have been putting them into my smoothie blender and like you said it gets stuck on the sides...so annoying! I'm going to try your tip and just stir them in at the end. Thanks! - 6/29/2011   6:17:36 PM
  • 66
    I'll be looking for them to try. Thanks for the info. - 6/28/2011   8:02:11 PM
  • 65
    I'm going to have to watch for them next time I buy groceries. - 6/27/2011   7:44:49 PM
  • 64
    I'd like to try chia ... I'll be on the lookout for it when I'm shopping. - 6/27/2011   11:29:34 AM
  • 63
    Will try Sprout's but have never seen them there though not looking for them specifically. Sounds like a good addition. Thanks for the article. - 6/27/2011   12:44:41 AM
  • STARRRRYDR
    62
    Sounds good to me. I'm going to give them a try. Thanks for the article! - 6/26/2011   10:54:23 AM
  • 61
    I add them to by breakfast smoothies. They tend to clump and will sink to the bottom, but a couple quick stirs re-suspends them. I go through about a single $10 bag per month. - 6/26/2011   9:39:38 AM
  • 60
    I've used them in smoothies and now I'm looking forward to trying the pudding. Thanks for the informative article. - 6/26/2011   9:30:02 AM
  • REDSHOES2011
    59
    They are okay, but not a must to eat nutritionally balanced.. The market is always on the look out for more ways to snag our money, and when feeding a family.. Economy comes first..
    - 6/26/2011   3:00:47 AM
  • 58
    I haven't tried them, but FLAXSEED is just as good & available at most stores. - 6/26/2011   2:04:51 AM
  • 57
    one of my sparkfriends tried chia seeds in oatmeal and found them to be disgusting and turned her off to oatmeal for quite a while. That kind of queered them for me. - 6/26/2011   12:14:39 AM
  • 56
    I use them in my shakes but I was eating granola while reading this and thought, I bet I could mix them in with my granola. - 6/26/2011   12:04:50 AM
  • NANCYLYN3
    55
    I have to try these seeds. Great article. - 6/25/2011   11:13:27 PM
  • 54
    My only knowledge of Chia was the "Cha-Cha-Cha-Chia" kind! I don't think I've ever seen them in the supermarket but maybe because it was never in my radar. I'll have to keep an eye out for them. - 6/25/2011   10:45:31 AM
  • 53
    Thanks for the article! Fabulous info. Will definately try this! - 6/25/2011   10:25:47 AM
  • 52
    I love chia seeds!! I add both chia seeds and flax seeds to water for at least 24 hrs... then add them to my Shakeology each day. Health in a glass! Love-love-love that little "pop" of the seeds. It helps me with my "need to chew" and keeps me from snacking when it's not really EATING that I need... just the mood to chew. - 6/24/2011   4:08:21 PM
  • 51
    I love flax seeds (eating them right now on top of Blackberries) so I'd be willing to give chia seeds a try. I eat more seeds and nuts than the average squirrel! - 6/24/2011   12:26:53 PM
  • 50
    I have tried both chia and flax seeds, but they seem to upset my digestion. I drink plenty of water in general, so I don't think it's because of that. But, they just don't seem to agree with me. - 6/24/2011   11:32:00 AM
  • TSBEZO
    49
    Never have tried them. - 6/24/2011   10:54:15 AM
  • 48
    who knew? I will keep an eye out for them. If I find them, I will try them. - 6/24/2011   10:42:06 AM
  • 47
    This is already saving me thousands in fancy electrolyte waters. I mix with lemon, water, a pinch of salt and a tsp of raw honey. Perfect. Also, like said, great in smoothies. - 6/24/2011   8:16:27 AM
  • MAKINYEMI
    46
    I will try them. - 6/24/2011   7:48:51 AM
  • DKHINES
    45
    I haven't tried them yet. However, I did find milled chia seed at my local CVS pharmacy. - 6/24/2011   7:24:21 AM
  • 44
    I love my chia seeds! I use them in my smoothies, but now I have lots of other ideas for how to blend them into recipes. Peaches are being harvested in our area right now, so I'm thinking of making chia jam and putting it on some chia bread! - 6/24/2011   6:51:04 AM
  • 43
    I make my own bread and add lots of grains and seeds in lieu of some of the flour. One of the things that I add is chia seeds (about 1/2c in a 750g loaf). I add a little more water to the recipe also. So many people tell me that the don't normally like "healthy bread" but they like mine. I'm sure some of that is the nutty flavour of the chia. - 6/24/2011   6:14:52 AM
  • 42
    What a fabulous article. I will be looking for the chia seed for sure. thanks. kat - 6/24/2011   5:30:38 AM
  • 41
    Wow! Saw the word Chia so read the article - thank you so much! I used to buy chia seeds at roadside farmstands in the 70's and loved them on salads. I've missed them. Thank you for the "other" name for them and the other ways to incorporate them back into my diet - I can't wait to get some more!
    - 6/24/2011   2:26:24 AM

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