What Can You Do with Chia Seeds? Plenty!

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
6/23/2011 9:00 AM   :  91 comments   :  97,111 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

  • 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
  • 40
    Wow never heard of any of this but look at the protein. I have trouble getting enough protein and this will help. I love the idea of jelly and pudding. Wonder if it would work as thickener for stews and soups? Now I know what I am going to do my internet search on. Thanks for a great article, idea and lots of help. I had to save this, so I could refer to it often. - 6/24/2011   1:45:05 AM
  • 39
    I used to always have chia seeds in my oatmeal.. I would grind them with a coffee grinder and add a tablespoon to my oatmeal... It made it a real "stick to the ribs" cereal! - 6/23/2011   11:42:28 PM
  • 38
    I'm glad someone has brought up chia seeds! I work at a bakery and we made three breads with chia seeds. I'm constantly talking to people about their benefits, and the chia flax and chia whole wheat breads are practically the only bread I eat now! - 6/23/2011   11:39:33 PM
  • 37
    Wow...who knew?!? haha I remember when I wanted a chia pet. (Kind of still do lol) - 6/23/2011   11:32:11 PM
  • KGARBACK
    36
    Wow. That was the most informative and interesting article I've seen in a long time. And every other reader's feedback was equally useful... Thanks. - 6/23/2011   10:48:05 PM
  • 35
    I'm definitely interested in trying Chia Seeds. Currently using ground milled flax seed and easy to hide in healthy muffins. Chia Seeds in place of eggs seems worth trying. - 6/23/2011   8:27:43 PM
  • 34
    Maybe the warning not to use the seeds from the chia pet should have come earlier in the article. I kept imagining one of those porcupine looking things growing inside of me.

    It sounds interesting and there is a Whole Foods near me. I will have to give it a try soon. - 6/23/2011   6:25:48 PM
  • 33
    Love my chia seeds! I have some in water or juice before I go out to run, and I swear it has helped; maybe it's all in my head from reading 'Born to Run,' but they are part of my pre-run routine now. I've used them in smoothies, too; haven't tried them the other ways you mention but I will. I want to try some homemade energy bars that include chia seeds, just haven't done it yet. - 6/23/2011   5:55:16 PM
  • 32
    Really interesting! I'll try them some time... thanks for the information. - 6/23/2011   4:45:15 PM
  • 31
    I loved chia seeds in my oatmeal all winter and sometimes made a tapioca with them, but I haven't found a good way to eat them in my warm weather foods. I also have some lassi in the fridge I've been looking for a way I like to consume, so I think I'll try that topped with some strawberries or blueberries for dessert. Thanks for the inspiration. I also wonder if it might be substituted in whole or in part in some salads that call for couscous or quinoa? I'll have to try that, too!

    Edited: Yes, it's good in lassi. I used 2 T. in 1/2 c. lassi and just let it sit out for an hour or two. Chop up a peach, add a spoonful of plain greek yogurt to up the creaminess and a couple drops of NuNaturals vanilla stevia = yumminess! - 6/23/2011   4:38:02 PM
  • STEPPING_STONES
    30
    This is great! I'd never heard of eating chia seeds. - 6/23/2011   3:38:02 PM
  • 29
    Thanks for the info! I had heard they were healthy but I never really understood how to use them. Will definitely be doing so now! - 6/23/2011   3:10:10 PM
  • 28
    I bought some a few months ago and love them, I like to sprinkle them in with my yogurt and granola in the morning or have them as pudding for dessert. - 6/23/2011   2:49:34 PM
  • 27
    I've been using chia seeds for awhile now, mostly in my protein smoothies as a thickener or sprinkled on salads, etc...
    Thanks for the very informative blog post : ) ! - 6/23/2011   2:27:35 PM
  • 26
    I bought some chia seeds on a whim several weeks ago when they were on sale at Whole Foods because I had heard how healthy they were. I really like them in Greek yogurt with a touch of honey. - 6/23/2011   2:09:42 PM
  • 25
    I read about how good chia seeds are for our health, but I didn't know how to use them. I'm glad to have read this blog, and the recommendations you gave us. - 6/23/2011   2:04:12 PM
  • 24
    Dr. Oz has also recommended Chia Seeds to middle aged women to help boost metabolism. I haven't tried them yet, but I would like to. - 6/23/2011   1:59:30 PM
  • 23
    I get mine in the bulk bins at Whole Foods for $6.99/lb. As long as you keep them in an container because of their high anti-oxidant content they don't go rancid like flax seeds and they can be stored for 2 years. My hubby puts them in his smoothies, oatmeal and I sprinkle them on peanut butter toast. - 6/23/2011   1:54:09 PM
  • CAMOM49
    22
    Informative article - I'm off on a quest to see if anyone local carries them before ordering from the internet. Thanks for the tip about looking in Mexican grocery stores. - 6/23/2011   1:09:12 PM
  • PLINDA
    21
    Wow, thanks I didn't know all that about chia seeds, will stop at the health food store this afternoon! - 6/23/2011   1:04:36 PM
  • 20
    Wow. Interesting! - 6/23/2011   12:40:17 PM
  • CHIAMOM
    19
    Thanks for an informative article. I prefer the milled myself. I put it in my morning yogurt and cereal. In order to share it with my family, I'm going to start baking with it too! Some of us may find it difficult to locate Chia seed products, even at health food stores. You can shop online for them at Amazon, or Running Food or GetChia. - 6/23/2011   12:33:30 PM
  • 18
    I wonder if I can find some in Australia? Such an interesting seed! - 6/23/2011   12:30:33 PM
  • 17
    Gi will definitely be buying chia on my next grocery trip! - 6/23/2011   12:15:47 PM
  • 16
    I have some and have so far only used them in water with lemon juice. I'm eager to try them now in my chocolate almond milk, along with adding them to my yogurts, soups, and cereals. What great ideas! Thank you so much. - 6/23/2011   12:14:36 PM
  • 15
    I'm intrigued, I am definitely going to have to go out and buy some and do some experimenting. Since I am a runner I am very interested in their use for hydrating during runs. - 6/23/2011   12:09:46 PM
  • UDFLYER56
    14
    love chias, another great place to add them is in veg chili

    thanks for the nutritional info great article - 6/23/2011   11:39:23 AM
  • 13
    Good informative article. I love chia seeds and have been using them for about 2 months now. I add them to cereal, hot porridge, yogurt, smoothies or salad. - 6/23/2011   11:24:09 AM
  • 12
    What an interesting idea. Since I don't like the taste of salmon, this might be a way to get the omega-3's I need. Now all I have to do is find them. - 6/23/2011   11:20:12 AM
  • 11
    I use Chia every morning in my smoothies. You can't deny the energy burst that they give you! They are so simple to throw in and have such great health benefits. - 6/23/2011   11:16:39 AM
  • 10
    I will be looking for these little nutritional wonders on my grocery shop today! Thank you for the information. - 6/23/2011   10:58:05 AM
  • DREJLANE
    9
    I tried chia seeds for the first time this morning in my overnight oats. The definitely absorbed a ton of moisture! - 6/23/2011   10:40:54 AM
  • 8
    I LOVE chia seeds! I tried them a few months ago and was amazed at how much water they absorbed. Thanks for the great info! I found them the cheapest at Mexican markets...if anyone was wondering. - 6/23/2011   10:26:20 AM
  • 7
    Love chia seeds. I have been using them for a few months now. - 6/23/2011   10:22:50 AM
  • 6
    I have used them as a thickener for smoothies. - 6/23/2011   10:20:59 AM
  • ANNIEW-C
    5
    This article is so very interesting!! Thank you!!! - 6/23/2011   10:14:36 AM
  • 4
    I've been using chia for a few years now. I usually sprinkle it over yogurt and berries, or add it to smoothies, but I am going to try it as an egg substitute--what an interesting idea! I have added chia to sports drinks but you have to clean the spout very carefully; the little seeds can get stuck there. - 6/23/2011   10:04:17 AM
  • 3
    I've been eating chia for a while after having found the Chia Goodness hot cereal blends at my local health food store while looking for gluten free breakfast cereal. They have a few flavored types in addition to the plain "original". I particularly like the chocolate, which has cocoa powder and almonds but no added sugar. The cranberry ginger is also quite good. I love how it thickens up since I don't like runny hot cereal. I like the taste and texture and enjoy having another gluten free alternative that doesn't take long to cook - just add hot water and stir. - 6/23/2011   9:52:58 AM
  • STEPFANIER
    2
    I haven't tried sprouting them, but I suppose you can. That's what you do with Chia Pets, after all. :) I will look into it!
    - 6/23/2011   9:43:20 AM
  • 1
    I definitely plan on trying them! Can you also sprout them (like alfalfa, wheat, and bean) and use them in salads, sandwiches, omelettes, etc? - 6/23/2011   9:37:16 AM

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