Remember the Chia Pet? The gag gift was all the rage in the 1980s – a terra-cotta animal figurine covered in sprouted chia-seed “fur.” The commercial jingle was an ear worm: “Ch-ch-ch-CHIIIIAAA“, sung to a time-lapse video of fine green “hair” growing on the back of a clay puppy, kitten, hippo or alligator.
Fast-forward a few decades, and those same chia seeds used to grow “hair” on clay animals are now popular as a nutrient-dense “superfood,” popping up in recipes that range from pudding and breakfast smoothies to salads and stir-fry dishes.
Chia seeds come from the Salvia plant, which is a flower that is botanically related to mint, and is native to Mexico and Guatemala. Only recently becoming popular in the US, chia seeds were a staple of Mayan and Aztec (indigenous Central American) diets.
One reason chia seeds are grabbing our attention is that they provide an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acid. They also are an excellent source of fiber at 10 grams per ounce (about 2 Tbsp), and the seeds contain protein and minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc. They also contain all nine essential amino acids, which are the muscle-building protein building blocks our bodies need but don’t produce naturally—we have to get them through our food.
[There is also some research that suggests that regular consumption of chia seeds can help lower “bad” cholesterol and blood pressure, and even help with weight loss. However, the few studies out there have used small sample sizes, with inconclusive results, so we’ll reserve judgement on those claims until we know more.]
What can you make with chia seeds? For one thing, chia seeds make a surprisingly good pudding, if you mix 1/4 Cup of chia seeds with 1 Cup of liquid (nut milks or fruit juices show up in most of the recipes). The little seeds can absorb up to 10 times their dry weight in whatever liquid you add, and take on a tapioca-like texture. Add your favorite spices, fruits, nuts or sweetener to jazz up this healthy dish.
Chia seeds are also a nice, lightly crunchy addition to baked goods like breads, muffins, cakes, and biscuits. You can sprinkle a spoonful of chia seeds to breakfast cereal/granola, cooked sauces, salads and vegetables, rice dishes, yogurt or mixed into drinks and smoothies.
Chia seeds are fairly easy to find at any grocery or health food store. (We’ve even bought organic chia seeds recently at discount grocer Aldi.) Look for chia seeds that are black or white in color, and avoid brown-colored seeds. The brown chia seeds are immature and may have a more bitter flavor than the others.
Ready to give them a try? Here are a few recipes from the AllSpice recipe database, that call for chia seeds.