I first heard about chia seeds at a vegan class taught by Colorado Springs, Colo., cookbook author Alan Roettinger. He extolled the virtues of using the seeds in dressings and noted that when they are soaked in water, they swell up and become gelatinous.
"Chia seeds are a true super food, rich in essential fats, protein, fiber and minerals," he said. "I use chia most often before my workouts, in a simple drink I make by stirring a couple of tablespoons into a glass of water or juice and letting them soak for about 10 minutes. Their hydrophilic (water-loving) quality enables them to absorb 10 times their weight in water, which is then slowly released — along with the fats and protein — as I exercise."
Roettinger said it's better than simply drinking water because it keeps him hydrated longer.
"The fats are an excellent, clean-burning fuel, too," he said. "I also use chia in smoothies, salads, cold soups, and snacks. Blended into fruit purees, they're a terrific thickener for healthful sauces and puddings."
That endorsement got me thinking about these interesting little seeds. I wanted to learn more, so when I saw Christina Summers' "Cha-cha-cha-cha chia chia!" cooking class being offered, I signed up immediately. Summers owns Forks n' Spoons Vegan Cooking Made Simple cooking school in Colorado Springs.
While we waited for our chocolate chia seed pudding to plump up, Summers told us about the health benefits of chia seeds. She noted that they are gluten-free, high in fiber, protein and omega-3 fatty acids, and help regulate blood sugar. I did a little more digging and found that they are cholesterol-free and that one 28-gram serving of these super seeds boasts 4.4 grams of protein, nearly 10 percent of the daily value, and 11 grams of dietary fiber, about a third of the recommended daily intake for adults.
Chia seeds are part of the mint family that is native to Mexico and Guatemala. Their history dates to the Aztecs as an important food crop, but they didn't become known in North America until about 30 years ago. They come in white, dark brown or black. Unlike flaxseeds, which have to be ground in order to benefit from their nutrition, chia seeds can be eaten whole or milled.
It's easy to incorporate chia into your diet. The seeds are tasteless. But remember they will swell up when mixed with liquid and could make your recipes thicker. You'll find them in health food stores and some supermarkets.
When Summers finished telling us about the miraculous chia seeds, our chocolate pudding had doubled in volume, from 2 cups to 4 cups. And it tasted delicious.
The seeds added a crunch to the texture of the pudding. If you don't like that, you can whirl it in a blender for a smoother feel.