Ingredient Spotlight: Chia Seeds

 

Move over, Chia Pet. Make room, Chia Hair. Chia seeds have graduated from cheesy eighties gag gift to the new superfood on the block.

I had heard rumblings about the benefits of chia seeds for a while, but frankly, they seemed too ‘healthy’ to me – I generally shy away from buying peripheral health ingredients that don’t have much taste to them (I’m looking at you, green tea extract.)

But then I saw them at the bulk food store and thought, what the heck. I’ve never really gotten into flax seeds (the fact that you have to grind them before using always seemed like too much work to me), so these seemed like the perfect solution.

 

So why exactly are chia seeds so great?

Chia seeds are a great natural source of Omega 3s, the good fat that aids in healthy development. They are also packed full of protein and fibre (5g per tablespoon – more than an apple!) Unlike flax seeds, which have to be ground before using and go rancid quickly, chia seeds can be eaten whole and last in the cupboard for ages. 

When you add water to chia seeds, they expand and become gelatinous. This means that when you eat them, they basically become a gel in your stomach and fill you up, which helps you stay full longer.

 

But I’m not a health nut. Why should I use them?

Here is the beauty of chia seeds – they are a very easy way to help regular people eat better. If you struggle to get enough fibre in your diet (and really, how much bran can a person eat?), you can sprinkle chia seeds on your meal and instantly add 5 grams of fibre.

If you’re trying to watch your weight and are perpetually caught by the 2pm snack demon, just sprinkle some chia seeds on your lunch and you’ll feel full longer. (They help me get through the barren tundra between breakfast and lunch without reaching for the Bounty bar in the fridge. Yes, Bounty Bar, I’ve hidden you, but I still know you are there.)

 

Okay, I’m sold. What are they like and how do I use them?

Chia seeds look just like poppy seeds. They are tiny and basically tasteless, which makes them perfect for sprinkling on cereal, yogurt and salads. You can also throw them into a smoothie or into baked goods like muffins and loaves; I even give put them in little M.’s baby food.

I wouldn’t be a hedonist, though, if I didn’t include a warning: as I mentioned, chia seeds become gelatinous and expand in water. This means that when you chew them, they tend to get gummy – kind of like tiny tapioca beads, which is a bit surprising at first.

A few recipes out there try to capitalize on this gelatinous tendency of chia seeds by suggesting you make a pudding. I excitedly tried one of these recipes after everyone’s favourite willowy blonde macrobiotic actress sung the praises of it. I mean, come on – pudding for breakfast? Heaven!

Um, no. It was vile and repulsive – a grayish, gelatinous, tasteless mass. (I’m really selling you on chia seeds here, aren’t I? ) Don’t get me wrong, chia seeds are still amazing – just stick to sprinkling them on your meals instead of using them as a main ingredient.

Your trusty Hedonist has not given up, though – I’m still trying to find a chia pudding recipe that is actually good (I put the call out on Twitter a few days ago, so I’ll keep you posted – this one looks promising.) In the meantime – sprinkle these babies on your amaranth porridge and revel in your new status as a health nut.

Interested in other ingredient superstars? Follow my Pinterest board on Building a Natural Foods Pantry to see other great finds to add to your daily rotation! 

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