Most of us remember that jingle (you're probably singing it as you read this) advertising the terra-cotta planters in the shape of pets. Once you soaked the seeds and slathered the gooey mixture on the planter, it sprouted fuzzy greens in a few days.
Turns out those black seeds are full of nutrients.
Chia seeds are often compared to flax seeds because they have similar nutritional profiles. But the main difference is that chia seeds don't need to be ground the way flax seeds do. Chia also has a longer shelf life and does not go rancid like flax does.
Raw and sprinkled on foods or soaked in water to create a gelatinous thickener, chia seeds are a source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and fiber.
Often cited as an authority on chia, Wayne Coates is an agricultural engineer and professor emeritus at the University of Arizona. He wrote "Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood," published last spring. The book discusses the history of chia and its health benefits and includes plenty of recipes.
"It's not a supplement and is a food in the FDA's eyes," Coates said. "Which means you can consume as much as you like."
Coates does urge caution when choosing chia seeds.
"Chia is only black or white," Coates said. "If there is brown -- it is not good, and it can mean the seeds are immature."
About the seeds
Chia, also known as Salvia hispanica, comes from a flowering plant native to Mexico and Central America and also grown in Australia. Chia seeds are mainly black, but you can buy white ones.
Chia seeds are sold at health food stores, Whole Foods Market and some grocery stores. Prices vary.
How to use chia
Here are some suggestions for using raw chia seeds:
- Sprinkle over yogurt, oatmeal and cereals.
- Stir into drinks and smoothies.
- Toss in mixed greens, rice, pasta or potato salads.
- Add to muffin and cookie recipes.
- Make a pudding, stirring the seeds into almond milk (or other dairy, rice or coconut milk).
- In a clean coffee grinder, grind the seeds into a coarse flour (often called milled chia) and use it in baked goods.
The following recipes were all tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.
All recipes are from "Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood" by Wayne Coates.
You can use any variety of vegetables in this salad.
Chia rice salad
1/2 cup chia gel (see note)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary or oregano leaves, minced
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups cooked brown rice (long grain, basmati or short grain)
1 small zucchini, julienned
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
In a small bowl, combine chia gel, oil, lemon, garlic, salt, herbs and cayenne. Whisk until well-blended. (You can also put ingredients into a tightly closed jar and shake vigorously to mix.)
In a large bowl, combine the rice, vegetables and Parmesan cheese, if using. Pour the dressing over the rice mixture, combining gently and thoroughly.
Cook's note: To make chia gel, pour 1 cup cool water into a sealable plastic or glass container. Slowly pour 1 3/4 tablespoons chia seeds into water while briskly mixing with wire whisk. Wait 3 or 4 minutes, then whisk again. Let the mixture stand about 10 minutes before whisking again. Store this mixture in the refrigerator up to 1 week.
Makes 6 servings. Per serving: 189 calories (32 percent from fat), 7 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 28 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 227 milligrams sodium, 2 milligrams cholesterol, 3 grams fiber.
These make a generous size muffin. You also can make them in a mini muffin pan.
Chia seed muffins
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup raw or regular sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup chia seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin pans with paper liners or lightly grease.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in the eggs, yogurt and vanilla.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, chia seeds, salt and baking soda.
Slowly add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and blend until just combined. Do not overmix.
Fill each muffin cup 2/3 full of batter. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar if using. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly before removing from the tin.
Makes 12 muffins. Per muffin: 244 calories (40 percent from fat), 11 grams fat (6 grams saturated fat), 32 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 115 milligrams sodium, 62 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram fiber .
Green super smoothie
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 1/2 cups pear juice, coconut water, water or a mixture
3 romaine lettuce or kale leaves
1 small cucumber, peeled
3 parsley sprigs
Add all the ingredients to a blender and liquefy using the most powerful setting. Blend until smooth. Drink immediately.
Makes 1 serving: 123 calories (32 percent from fat), 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 18 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 351 milligrams sodium, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 4 grams fiber .
Use whatever vegetables you have on hand for this recipe.
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon chia gel
1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped cooked vegetables
Vegetable oil as needed
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth.
Add the chia gel and whisk until combined.
Add the vegetables and stir until combined.
In a large skillet over medium heat, add oil. Pour in the egg mixture and cook, without stirring, until the eggs are set completely through. Allow to cool in the pan slightly before sliding onto a cutting board. Cut into wedges to serve.
Makes 2 servings. Per serving: 154 calories (65 percent from fat), 11 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat), 2 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams protein, 125 milligrams sodium, 368 milligrams cholesterol, 0 grams fiber .
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