How to eat chia seeds
Chia seeds look unassuming, but they are the stuff of actual legend. Ancient tribes like the Aztecs and Mayans used these little guys to sustain themselves during lengthy expeditions that required enormous amounts of stamina, such as battles and hunting trips. The story goes that one small pouch could fuel their messengers on long running excursions through the mountains to deliver news to neighbouring tribes. Plus there's this added bonus: as the seeds can be eaten in their natural state tribesmen didn't have to waste time on stopping to find and cook food, leaving them to battle, hunt and run without hindrance.
Now, I'm not suggesting any of you are planning to become ultra marathon runners or that you have battle-worthy beef with your neighour that might require hours of combat, unless it's via a digital controller. But chia seeds today have an important place in a plantbased diet even without the need for stamina.
Chia is one of several foods that have been given 'superfood' status. This unregulated term is really no more than a clever marketing ploy by the health food industry. It holds little weight with nutrition experts, who generally believe (or should) that healthy diets rely on a variety of nutritious foods and no magical 'superfood' selection will ever be a substitute for that. However, these so-called functional foods are set apart from their cousins by virtue of the fact that they offer benefits beyond their nutritional value, such as lowering cholesterol or improving gut health.
Whether you buy into the superfood trope or not, chia seeds are still remarkable in their nutritional content and make an excellent addition to your diet. Alongside flaxseeds, they contain the highest natural plant source of omega 3 fatty acids - more, in fact, than salmon when compared gram for gram. They are a complete protein (ie containing all 8 amino acids) and serve up approximately 4g of protein in 2 tbsp of chia. They're high in fibre, antioxidants and an impressive list of vitamins and minerals including calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc and several B vitamins. They also contain almost no carbs, making them a ketoer's dream.
So now you know why you should eat them, but the next question is how?
Here are a bunch of easy ways to incorporate chia seeds into your diet.
Tip: the best way to eat chia is to soak them in water for at least 15 minutes. Like all seeds, chia contains digestive inhibitors that are only removed when the seeds germinate aka sprout. Soaked/sprouted seeds are more easily digested by our bodies, allowing us to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients.
How to make it: stir 1/3 cup chia into 2 cups warm water and let the mixture thicken. The seeds absorb up to 9 times their weight in water and form a gelatinous coating with a pudding like consistency.
How to use it:
#1: add it to smoothies for a nutrient punch - it will also thicken your smoothie.
#2: make chia pudding by adding plant milk and flavouring to your gel. Here's an easy recipe for chocolate chia pudding - soya milk, cacao powder, agave syrup, vanilla extract and cinnamon. It keeps in the fridge for several days so you have a healthy snack or post dinner treat within easy reach. Full recipe on my IG here.
#3: use as an egg replacer when baking. To chia make one egg substitute, combine 1 tbsp chia + 2.5 tbsp water. Note: I am on the fence about the effectiveness of chia eggs as egg substitutes, but some people swear by them.
#4: use instead of pectin in jams. It thickens just as well and is flavourless where pectin is bitter, so you won’t need to add as much sugar to disguise the taste.
#5: use as a thickener in stews or soups, much like you would use corn starch or arrowroot.
How to make it: grind up the seeds in a spice grinder or blender.
How to use it:
#1: sprinkle on top of smoothies or oatmeal.
#2: add it to breadcrumbs and use as a crispy crumb coating for tofu or cauliflower.
How to make it: open jar of chia seeds and pour! This is clearly the easiest option, but remember that you won't get the full effect of the nutrients as explained above.
How to use it:
#1: add to salads for some texture (not everyone will be a fan as they are quite hard and crunchy).
#2: use as you would mixed seeds and add to baked goods like bread for a crunchy topping.