Most of us are familiar with the iconic Chia Pet® The Pottery that grows, but until recently few people thought about eating the seeds or the resulting sprouts.
Chia seeds are a member of the Salvia genus of plants, its latin name is Salvia Hispanica, and Chia itself is derived from a native Nahuatl word meaning oily. Salvia is a large group plants that is a subset of the mint family and is most well know for its largest species group, sage.
Almost all plants within the Salvia genus have parts that can be eaten. The name itself is Latin for “to feel well and healthy”, implying the health benefits obtained from the use of these plants.
Chia seeds are small, usually 1mm to 2mm in size, and are brownish, whitish, blackish in color (under a magnifying glass they are speckled). When exposed to liquids containing sufficient amounts of water they excrete a mucosal membrane around the seed to hold the water. Liquids containing high levels of acid or alcohol reduce the rate of adsorption as they keep the water away from the surface of the seed. In the wild the seeds ability to hold onto liquid allows the plant to start growing in areas where rain fall is minimal. The mucosal membrane is also sticky allowing the seed to hang onto whatever surface it happens to be on. This is why Chia Pets® work, as a moistened seed will happily glue itself on to the clay surface of the pottery.
So what are Chia seeds really good for?
Chia seeds are an amazing source of Essential Fatty Acids, protein, and fiber. They are also high in calcium, phosphorus and manganese. For exact numbers and a complete scientific breakdown, click here.
Chai seeds are also a wonderful accompaniment to a mild detox cleanse, as the soluble fiber of the mucosal membrane, and the insoluble fiber of the seed itself pull built up toxins and excess dampness out of the digestive tract.
OK, so they are good for me. But how do I use them?
My favorite way to use Chia seeds is to add a tablespoon or so to a glass of juice and let the seeds soak up the juice and then drink it. Since I like to play with my food, I will also just cover the seeds with a dark colored juice, like blueberry, until they have absorbed all of the available juice, and they pour in a different colored juice, like pear, to fill the glass, which creates little floating specks of color in your juice.
Chia seeds are a great addition to salads, or a cup of yogurt, sprinkled on fruit, blended into a smoothie, just about anything you could imaging really. One delicious recipe that I discovered was for a Chia Coconut pudding that could be garnished with fruit, or even turned into a chocolate pudding. Plus as the seeds are the thickening agent, there is no cooking involved.
Cooking with Chia can also be delicious and entertaining. Sprinkle them into a pie or cobbler to add crunch and thickening rather than using corn starch or tapioca. Add them into cookies or fruit bars to give them a springy gelatin feel. You can also grind them up and use them to replace part of the flour in recipes that don’t have much gluten as a binder to make them hold together better.
What other ways can I use Chia?
A slightly more difficult, but very rewarding way to use Chia is to sprout the seeds and use the sprouts as a garnish on salads, sandwiches, soups, etc. Chia seeds are a little more difficult to sprout because since they excrete a mucosal membrane, you can’t use the same method as with other seeds like radish, clover, or alfalfa (see my article on sprouting here).
Other than purchasing a Chia Pet at Christmas time, you can use an inverted clay pot set into a tray as an effective growing medium. Here are simple instructions if you want to try this yourself.
- Completely wet the pot, you may want to even soak it in a bowl of water for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Size of pot will determine how many seeds you want to use, 1 tablespoon will cover the outside of a 4″ pot.
- Place the seeds in a small dish and add just enough water to cover.
- Allow the seeds to soak up the water, then using your finger or a Popsicle stick, spread the seeds on the outside of the pot, working to keep them as a single layer. Keep the seeds off the wider brim, as this area will be in contact with water when the pot is placed into a tray.
- By placing water in the tray, the pot will wick the water up to the seeds and keep them moist without the risk of mold or having the seeds rot as they would in a traditional sprouting jar.
- If part of the pot seems too dry, gently mist it with a spray bottle, or your sink sprayer.
- Keep out of direct sun until sprouts start to form leaves, at which time you can move the pot into a bright window to green them up.
Chia sprouts have all the benefits of the seed plus the addition of chlorophyll, making them an even better source of nutrients and energy. It is recommended that unless you are a night owl that you don’t eat Chia sprouts in the evening, they are quite the energy boost.
Chia seeds are fun and delicious. The more you explore ways to use them, the more you appreciate the wonders of this tiny power house of a seed.