What are chia seeds and why should I use them?
Chia seeds are tiny black seeds (some can be white) from a plant native to South America. (yes, they were also the seeds used in the popular Chia Pet, which you’ll realize is a travesty once you learn their goodness).
If chia is new to you, they’re very similar in concept and function to flax seeds. So, if you’re familiar with flax seeds, chia is an easy replacement product, they just took longer to become popular. Chia seeds provide more than twice the antioxidants of flax and do not contribute the high level of phyto-estrogens (plant estrogens) that flax do, which is one reason why men may want to avoid regular consumption of flax seeds.
“Chia” is Mayan for “strength”. For the Aztecs, it was a sacred food.
That’s because they were prized for providing lasting energy and stamina for warriors and runners. It was also used medicinally.
Any time an ancient culture prizes a food for it’s health and medicinal benefits, it’s worth taking notice. The medicine of the past is still the medicine of today (and the future).
Here’s why they’re so awesome. They’re high in:
Antioxidants (as many as blueberries)
Protein (all eight essential amino acids)
Omega-3 fats (more than walnuts)
Fiber (it’s almost entirely soluble, which is food for the healthy bacteria in your intestines, lowers LDL, helps bind toxins and lowers inflammation)
Vitamins and Minerals – calcium, manganese, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, copper, magnesium
Improve Digestion and Elimination of Toxins
Help Build Strong Bones/Dental Health
Enhance Physical Performance
Improve Heart Health
Improve Blood Sugar and Insulin Resistance
Reduce Free Radicals in the Body and Support Skin
How do you use it?
Chia seeds are pretty tasteless, so they work great with most things.
They also absorb up to 12 times their weight in water! This expands them and they become slippery and mucilagenous, which is really a good thing. That’s the major reason why it’s so soothing to the gastrointestinal tract.
I recommend soaking first and creating a “gel”, which means the chia has already absorbed water and won’t absorb it out of your recipes (or your digestive tract). Plus, soaking “activates” the seed, essentially sprouting it and making the nutrients inside much more obtainable.
Some folks use chia dried without soaking first (say, by throwing them in smoothies or adding to oats cooking on the stove), which is fine if they have some time to soak up water and expand. Generally, though, I think it’s best to soak.
But, here’s the kicker – soaked or used dry, whole seeds are still round and noticeable, more so than I’d like them to be.
Maybe you’ve tried chia and didn’t like the slippery nature of them, but would like to incorporate them for their health benefits?
To get around the texture and make them blend easier in recipes, you have options:
1. Best option: Buy them ground or grind whole seeds in a coffee grinder, then soak them.
If grinding yourself, use 1/4 cup whole seeds and add 1.5 cups water in a jar. Stir until well incorporated.
2. Next best option: Soak them first, then puree them in a blender.
Take 1/4 cup seeds, soak in 1 cup water for at least 20min. Add another 1/4 cup water and blend (may need to run the blender for about 1min).
Here’s what it all looks like:
1. Whole Chia straight out of the bag
2. Whole soaked chia – many just use these in smoothies or make puddings with the whole seeds by soaking in almond milk and add fruit or cocoa powder and sweetener
3. Ground (I ground these finely in a clean coffee grinder) – I prefer to grind from whole because the essential fats can become damaged if ground in a factory and left to sit in a bag, but do what you can. If you buy it already ground, keep the container in fridge to prevent spoilage.
4. Soaked ground seeds – I store mine in a jar in the fridge for up to 5 days (same with whole soaked).
I use either the dry ground (3) or soaked ground (4) in recipes.
Really, you can use all four of these stages in almost any of the ideas listed below, just depends on your prefence.
Here’s where you can hide the chia without anyone knowing:
Oatmeal (about 2Tbs of soaked ground chia goes in my bowl)
Smoothies (3 Tbs dry or soaked)
Mix into jams and jellies
Pancakes (I add 1-2 Tbs soaked ground to the mix)
Yogurt (I add 2 Tbs soaked ground to plain yogurt, then some fruit. Note: I love Kite Hill yogurt made from almond milk.)
As a thickener is soups and stews (go 1 Tbs at a time of dry or soaked ground seeds until desired thickness)
As an egg substitute (1 Tbs ground + 3 Tbs water = 1 egg)
Mix finely ground seeds with seasonings for meat breading
Click on the titles & images below for recipes using chia: