Chances are if I say the
" to yo
u, it con
jures up this image:
Amazingly, it turns out that this same little seed that gave us not only the Chia Pet, but also the Chia Mr. T, Chia Britney and Chia Obama - I know, quite a miracle seed! - is also a serious nutritional powerhouse. But why eat something that you can grow into a decorative piece of greenery? Here's a few reasons:
1. It's a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids (including the famous omega-3 and omega-6) that our body needs to survive but can't produce itself. There are very few plant foods that fall into this category, so it's a fantastic food for vegans or anyone looking to decrease their meat and dairy intake - or just anyone looking for low-cal, high-energy protein source. Chia has been reported to contain twice as much protein as any other seed or grain.
2. It has more iron than spinach! Again, great for those who don't go to red meat for iron.
3. Chia is really high in those good old antioxidants, which we know help fight free radicals and keep our lovely cells stable and cancer-free. It is reported to have three times more antioxidants than blueberries! Further, all those antioxidants help keep chia really stable at room temperature, and can be stored in the cupboard for years without going rancid (unlike flax and many other seeds and nuts).
4. It contains way more calcium than milk (and none of the dubious hormones found in conventional dairy). Don't get me started on the dairy = calcium myth! Let's suffice it to say, it's a big industry with a powerful lobby and a long, strong history. Getting calcium from chia is a much better choice for many reasons. For starters, it also contains the trace mineral boron that helps our bones absorb calcium.
5. Chia has more potassium than bananas. Mix these two together in a smoothie and you'll be cramp-invincible!
6. It slows the release of sugars into the bloodstream, helping to prevent energy spikes. Great for diabetics or anyone, really. Add some chia into your sweet foods or drinks, and the chia creates a barrier between the carbs and the enzymes that digest them. It also means your carbohydrate energy becomes longer lasting, so you feel stronger for longer.
7. As above, because chia slows the release of carbs, it seems to be a great exercise food. If I eat chia and go running or practice yoga later that day my endurance and strength seem to be increased. Perhaps this is also due to chia's water absorption capacity, which keeps the body hydrated and full of electrolytes during exercise. In Mayan tradition, chia was eaten by runners carrying messages over far distances - they always had a little pouch of this "running food" with them.
8. Chia is great at cleaning out your intestinal tract. It acts like a little broom, sweeping into those out-of-the-way corners and removing accumulated waste (yuck, I know, but so much better to get it out of there!).
Chia is one of my favorite superfoods because it is not only packed with nutrition and a source of endless energy, but it is also incredibly versatile in terms of culinary creativity. Here's what the little salvia hispanica seeds look like when dry:
And here's what they look like when soaked in water:
They go all gell-y when soaked and can absorb up to 10 times their volume in water (or juice, or any other liquid). Chia doesn't have much flavor of its own but has a kind of tapioca-like texture, which makes it great to use in recipes. I especially like to create all kinds of puddings using chia as the base, or add the gell to smoothies or juices for some extra slow-release energy.
Black Sesame Chia Pudding
Chia Pudding, Three Ways
Serves 4 for a light breakfast or dessert, or 2 for a hearty breakfast
5 Tbsp chia seeds
2 cups almond milk*
1-2 Tbsp raw honey, agave or maple syrup (adjust to taste - sweetness is a very personal thing!)
For Middle Eastern Chia Pudding
1 tsp rosewater
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Add the vanilla, rosewater and cardamom to the basic recipe. Stir well and set aside for at least 10 minutes. Stir again. Serve in shallow bowls, sprinkled with cinnamon.
For Vanilla and Nectarine Chia Pudding
2 Tbsp agave nectar, honey or maple syrup
1/2 vanilla pod
Cut nectarines in half and remove the stone. Drizzle with sweetener and place, cut side up, on dehydrator screens. Dehydrate for at least 4 hours, or overnight if eating for breakfast.
Scrape the seeds from the 1/2 vanilla pod and add to basic recipe. Stir well and let sit for at least 10 minutes. Serve in shallow bowls, topped with 2 nectarine halves each.
Variation: Omit the nectarines. Mascerate 1 cup of berries in orange juice to cover for 1 hour. Spoon on top of pudding to serve.
For Black Sesame Chia Pudding
1/2 cup +1 Tbsp black sesame seeds
2 cups water
1/4 cup dried coconut
Omit the almond milk from the basic recipe. Instead, grind the black sesame seeds in a spice mill or coffee grinder. Blend the ground seeds with the water in a blender. Add the black sesame milk to the chia seeds and sweetener. Stir well and set aside for at least 10 minutes. Just before serving, mix through the dried coconut. Serve in shallow bowls, garnished with a sprinkle of black sesame seeds and a dusting of dried coconut.
As you can see, chia is highly adaptable. For more sweet chia inspiration check out:
- Joanna Steven's recipes for Orange Blossom Scented Chai Pudding and Not-Tella Chia Pudding, or her decadent Chia Chocolate Crackers
- Dr. Ritamarie Loscalzo's Peach Coconut Pie with Chia Nut Crust, which I must make before the summer is over...drooling...
- Ani Phyo has a recipe for Halva Chia Thumbprint Cookies in her new dessert book, which Annemarie Gianni demonstrated on The Renegade Health Show
- Angela Stokes-Monarch's comprehensive piece on the history, nutrition and culinary uses this amazing superfood on the G Living blog
Chia can also be added to savory recipes. Carmella's (of The Sunny Raw Kitchen fame) Chia House Dressing is so beautiful, and it has inspired me to being adding chia to all of my favorite salad dressing recipes to thicken them without adding more oil. I recently created the following adaptation and served it tossed through a salad of raw rocket, zucchini and red onion mixed with cooked millet.
Sweet Sunny Chia Coriander Dressing
2 Tbsp chia seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp tahini
2 Tbsp honey
1 1/2 Tsp himalayan salt
1/4 cup (packed) coriander/cilantro leaves
1 cup water
Place everything into the blender and blend away. Mmmmmm. This would also be lovely over sweet potatoes, or any salad really.
Chia are really one of most versatile, remarkable and nutritious foods I've ever come across. I eat the slippery seeds nearly every day, and I suggest you give them a try. And if by some off chance they don't do it for you, you can always use them to do this:
"I pity the fool who don't like chia"