Chia is in the mint family and is grown commercially for its seeds which are rich in omega 3 fatty acids (alpha linoleic acid). Chia is native to South and Central America and was cultivated by the Aztecs who considered it an important food for promoting health and strength ( a runner’s food). It is easily grown with few pests as its leaves contain oils repellant to insects. For anyone who has grown mint, you can imagine chia grows quite well in its native climate.
Nutritionally, chia seeds are a powerhouse- vitamins, minerals, fiber, fatty acids, protein, and antioxidants. All in significant quantities. An ounce of chia seeds, about 2 tablespoons, will supply almost 5 g of high quality protein, almost 10 g of fiber, 179 mg of calcium, a hefty dose of B vitamins niacin and thiamin, and manganese, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. For those who want to track nutrient numbers more specifically, click here for the USDA full nutrient report for Chia seeds. There are so many nutrients of significance, the list is quite long.
Using them in the kitchen is not hard unless you can’t stand to get them caught between your teeth. An easy trick is to know that chia seeds are very hydrophilic: they absorb water quite well. Put a few tablespoons in water to form a slurry and overnight you will have a fairly solid “gel” that can be easily incorporated into smoothies, yogurt, baked goods, applesauce, oatmeal, spread on toast with jam- use your imagination! Chia seeds are fairly tasteless themselves and can be easily added to other foods.
Puget Sound Consumer Coop published a great breakfast recipe with chia seeds and oatmeal here. For those who can’t eat oatmeal or prefer other grains, here is a recipe which I often scale up for the week and mix in small jars which are portable for busy mornings.
Chia Breakfast in a Jar
1T chia seeds
½ cooked grain (millet, buckwheat, creamy cooked cereals, brown rice leftovers). OR ⅓ cup flaked quinoa
⅔ cup plain kefir
Mix together, cap, and let sit overnight in the fridge. It will store easily for 3-5 days. I often make up enough for the week. Pint mason jars work quite well but any container will do.
Before eating add 2T flax seeds if you like and a cup of fruit. Berries, either in season or frozen berries thawed work quite well. Applesauce and cinnamon, bananas and coconut. The variations are endless.