It seems like almost every week there’s a new superfood that everyone is raging about. Kale, beetroot, coconut oil and even black pudding have all had their day in the sun. But there’s one superfood that looks like it may be here to stay: chia. Not only is it packed full of goodness, it is also one of the easiest items to start to incorporate into your diet, acting as an enhancer or food substitute for many of the recipes you’re already cooking.
First, when people say chia they mean the seeds of the chia plant. Native to central and southern America, this is closely related to the mint plant. The seeds of the chia plant (Salvia Hispanica to give its full, fancy name) have been used in cookery in those regions for thousands of years. It is said that the Aztecs were fans and that chia means ‘strength’ in the Mayan language, due to its positive effect on the health and constitution of those who consumed it. There are two varieties, black chia and white chia, and it can be sold as full seeds or milled up. (On an aside, chia seeds were often the seed used in those very fashionable ‘grow a pet’ kits that took off in the 1990s.)
Why is it so awesome?
The simple answer is that chia is a nutritional superhero. Not only is it low in calories and high in protein, amino acids and fibre, but it also contains high concentrations of omega-3 oils. The seeds also contain calcium, imperative in the diet for maintaining bone density. The high fibre content means that a spoonful of these can help to up your intake and protect that all-important gut health. There’s also some evidence to suggest that chia is high in antioxidants which are thought to fight damage in the body too. All this is good news because just a few teaspoons a day and really make a difference in how you feel and your diet.
Also, because they are a dried good they can be stored in a cool place away from moisture for many months meaning they are a great fall back for those days when the rest of the cupboard is bare.
What does it taste like?
The unsoaked seeds are gritty, crunchy and not unlike poppy seeds in their taste and texture. When soaked they easily absorb the flavour of whatever they’re paired with. In terms of texture, they’re not unlike tapioca, with a squashy ball like shape.
How do you incorporate it into your diet?
As mentioned above, chia comes in two main forms, either whole seeds or milled and packaged.
Milled up chia can be incorporated into any number of dishes from smoothies to home bakery. In smoothies it can add thickness to recipes. In bakery it can be mixed with a little water to form a gel-like substance that can be substituted for eggs in vegan bakery recipes. The general rule is to mix one tablespoon of chia with three tablespoons of water and leave for 20 minutes before adding to your recipe instead of egg.
Because they absorb so much liquid, the full seeds work best when hydrated with either water or another liquid such as soya or almond milk. This makes them excellent for use in pudding-type dishes or porridges. A simple recipe is to soak three tablespoons of chia seeds in 120ml of milk or almond milk with a teaspoon of maple syrup. Leave this in a sealed container and in the morning, with a bit of fruit on top, you’ll have a breakfast fit for a queen.
Because of the high protein count, chia is a great choice for those who might be vegetarian or vegan, it can boost their intake and can help you feel fuller for longer too, which is a bonus.
If you’re eating chia seeds that haven’t been hydrated with another liquid, make sure to drink your recommended daily eight glasses as water. As the chia easily absorbs liquid they can also do this in the stomach, leaving you feeling a little uncomfortably full.
Can you use it any other way?
The key thing with chia is to use your imagination. Where you’d normally add a sprinkling of sesame or poppy seeds, why not try chia? Likewise for recipes that might require a binding ingredient such meatballs or homemade burgers. Even by sprinkling it over your regular cereal you’ll help your body get an extra blast of vitamins and minerals.
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