Chia Seeds Are Super Healthy—Here's How to Make Them Super Delicious
In case you haven't heard, chia seeds are off of the novelty plant grower and in your supermarket. Why? Because they're a nutrient-dense food loaded with calcium and fiber (18% and 42% respectively of your RDA per one ounce of seeds). There are even some preliminary studies that show chia might be useful in combating diabetes.
This edible seed is native to Mexico and Central America and was used by the Aztecs and Mayans as an easily transportable form of food for long journeys or during wartime. It's actually a member of the mint family and its official name is Salvia hispanica. And chia actually beats flax in two ways: it has more omega-3s and it can be stored for very long periods of time without going rancid.
Chia seeds are a mucilaganeous food, which means when they are soaked in liquid, the protective coating within the seed turns to gel. It's one of the many reasons they're so fun and easy to use in recipes. However, if you really want to incorporate more chia into your life, it's time to look beyond adding them to baked goods and sprinkling them onto yogurt or cereal.
That gelling property of chia makes it a wonderful substitute for traditional jam making, which normally involves lots of chef-ly tasks like sealing Mason jars and adding pectin. Plus, traditionally made jams usually require a big time commitment, and you need lots of sugar to make the stuff thicken up. When you make jam with chia, you need only a little sweetener (and we'd recommend using a less-refined one, naturally).
Most chia fruit jam recipes require only that you cook your fruit of choice until it bursts, then add chia and cook until the mixture thickens. This usually takes less than half an hour. You can then add sweetener, lemon juice or zest, and vanilla to taste, refrigerate, and then enjoy. Some versions, like the one pictured above, require only that you puree the fruit in a blender, add chia seeds and sweetener to taste, and refrigerate overnight.
Just like flaxseed, chia seeds make a terrific substitute for eggs in baked goods and other recipes. For one egg, mix 1 tablespoon of ground chia meal with 3 tablespoons water or other liquid. Stir and let sit until the mixture gets gelatinous.
An alternative method is to put 1 tablespoon of whole chia in a blender, grind them up, then add 4 tablespoons of water and blend them until gelatinous. You can get more details here.
I've used the first method a lot, and I recommend mixing together ground chia meal and room-temperature water (I feel like the cold inhibits the gelling process) and letting it sit for a few minutes before whisking or stirring it. You can also get white chia seeds instead of black if you're baking a light-colored cake or cookie and want them to blend.
Breakfast is definitely the most important meal of the day, especially for high-achieving types, but it can be hard to find time and motivation to actually make the damn meal.
That's where chia oatmeal enters the picture. Soaking oats overnight in milk (dairy or non-dairy), yogurt, water, or a mixture of the three liquids is a time-honored way to have your refrigerator do the work for you. It doesn't matter whether you call it Bircher meusli, summer porridge, overnight oats, or refrigerator oatmeal.
Simply mix the liquid and oats in a container with a lid (a Mason jar is always a nice touch) along with any desired fruit, sweeteners, or spice and, of course, chia seeds. Cover and store in the fridge for at least six hours. Over time, the oats will release a sweet, milky liquid and the chia seeds will expand from being soaked and become simultaneously crunchy and gel-like.
My only caveat would be not to add too much chia right off the bat, or your oatmeal will be really gelatinous and kind of inedible. Start off by adding a teaspoon or two to one batch of overnight oatmeal and see how you like it. Then you can increase or decrease the amount from there.
This is the easiest and most appealing way to start eating more chia immediately. Add about a quarter cup of chia seeds to two cups of milk of your choice (I like coconut cream, which is the fattier, thicker sibling of coconut milk) along with a little sweetener, if desired. You can also add fresh or dried fruits. Mix it all together in a container, put a lid on it, and let that sucker sit overnight so it can thicken to a pudding-like consistency. You now have dessert, and it's not only tasty, it's relatively good for you.
The Food Network has a great recipe for chia pudding that uses milk, Greek yogurt, and fresh strawberries. The Rawtarian has a great version that tastes very close to rice pudding. I also like her raw chocolate pudding.
Energy gels are used by long-distance runners, hikers, cyclists, and anyone who needs nutrition, fast. But instead of shelling out a lot of money for the pre-made stuff, you can make a much healthier version at home using—yes, chia seeds. This is where their gelling ability and high level of antioxidants, trace minerals, protein, and fiber really get a chance to shine.
As No Meat Athlete points out in his pineapple-orange chia gel recipe, homemade energy gels using fruit and chia seeds and an easy DIY electrolyte replacement are comparable in function to storebought brands, except you actually can understand all the ingredients that go into them since they're made with whole foods.
Wellness Mama gives a whole host of ideas about how to easily incorporate more chia into your food, including using chia seeds to thicken soups and gravies, beef up meatballs instead of the usual breadcrumbs, and to use in breading chicken or fish before frying.
Since chia seeds' natural taste is nutty and earthy, they'll blend in quite nicely with most dishes.
Popular in Mexico and Central America is the "chia fresca," which is basically lemonade with chia seeds added. All you need to do is mix water, lime or lemon juice, sweetener, and chia seeds to taste. You can also use coconut water instead of regular H2O.
Stir it very well and let it sit for several minutes so the chia seeds can work their magic and thicken the beverage. You can get several versions of chia fresca, including strawberry, lime and mint, Jamaica, and grape here.
If you're trying to eat more complex carbohydrates and proteins, then you can't go wrong with making your own chia seed crispbread. This recipe from Nyoutritious uses other superfoods like pumpkin, sunflower, and flax seeds along with oats to create a nutty, crispy hearty crispbread that's great for spreads and open-faced sandwiches.
Meaningful Eats has a great recipe for gluten-free chia tortillas. The gelatinous nature of the chia seeds lends a lot of moisture and bend to these wraps, which means they won't crack when you make a burrito with 'em.
What's your favorite way to eat chia seeds?