Champion chia: Packing a big nutritional punch in a tiny package

By

Published:

 

To make chia gel

Soak about 2 tablespoons of seeds in 1 cup cool water. The seeds will swell and the mixture will become gelatinous. You can thin the gel if it's too thick.

Add the gel to water and drink as is.

Use the gelatinous mixture as an egg replacer in some recipes. You may need to adjust the other liquids in the recipe.

Use it as a thickening agent in salad dressing and some sauces and soups.

Source: Free Press Research and "Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood" by Wayne Coates

What if you could get a good amount of nutrition and feel satisfied all from a tiny seed?

Think ch-ch-ch-chia.

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.

"They are an amazing tiny seed and really inexpensive, and a little goes a long way," says Andrea McNinch, 37, owner of Healing Yourself Institute and Regeneration Raw in Royal Oak, Mich.

McNinch has been using chia for at least seven years and says the seeds have "two times the potassium as bananas and three times the reported antioxidants that blueberries have."

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.

From a culinary perspective, McNinch says, chia acts as "a binder, thickens and emulsifies things."

"Adding in chia bulks up your food without the calories and fat and without diminishing the flavor," she says. "You can add chia to anything."

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.

"In the last two years, chia has grown from being known in the health food community to being available at Costco," says Amber Poupore, 34, owner of the Cacao Tree Cafe in Royal Oak. She uses chia in smoothies and desserts and to make a dehydrated seed bread.

Food companies also are getting into chia. Global product launches of foods containing chia were up 78 percent in 2012, according to research firm Mintel. Dole Nutrition Plus launched a line of whole and milled chia and products containing chia.

"It's certainly a trend that's been real hot," says Tedd Handelsman, owner of Better Health Store locations in Michigan.

"We've carried them for a couple of years, and they are gaining in popularity," he says, adding that chia is becoming as popular as flax seed in the functional food category.

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. Here are some things you might not know:

Chia is a member of the mint family.

Chia seeds are mainly black, but you can buy white ones.

Aztec and Mayan cultures "relied on it to keep their civilization healthy," Wayne Coates writes in "Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood." In fact, the name chia means "strength" in Mayan.

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.

Chia Rice Salad

Serves: 6. Preparation time: 15 minutes. Total time: 15 minutes

You can use any variety of vegetables in this salad. From "Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood" by Wayne Coates (Sterling Publishing, $17.95). Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

1/2 cup chia gel (see inset)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 to 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 13/4 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.

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.

Chia Seed Muffins

Makes: 12 muffins. Preparation time: 10 minutes. Total time: 35 minutes

These make a generous size muffin. You also can make them in a mini muffin pan. From "Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood" by Wayne Coates (Sterling Publishing, $17.95). Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

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

OPTIONAL TOPPING: 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.

PER SERVING: 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

Makes: 1 serving. Preparation time: 10 minutes. Total time: 10 minutes

With green juices all the rage, try this one that uses chia. From "Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood" by Wayne Coates (Sterling Publishing, $17.95). Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen. Analysis based on using water.

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.

PER 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 .

Chia Frittata

Serves: 2. Preparation time: 15 minutes. Total time: 45 minutes

Use whatever vegetables you have on hand for this recipe. From "Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood" by Wayne Coates (Sterling Publishing, $17.95). Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon chia gel

1/4 to 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.

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 .