Chia seeds used to be a niche ingredient you could only scout out at health food stores next to the hemp seeds and spirulina. But chances are you can now find chia at your local supermarket, in everything from granolas and cereals to yogurts and energy drinks. You can find it at restaurants, too: Chia pudding has become a mainstay at trendy cafés and luncheonettes like NYC’s Dimes and L.A.’s Café Gratitude. Want to enjoy them at home? Read on for everything you need to know about these energy-packed seeds.
What You Need to Know
Chia seeds are harvested from a flowering plant in the mint family known as Salvia hispanica, which is native to parts of Mexico and Guatemala. Good-quality chia seeds are naturally black or white in color (they shouldn’t be brown—more on that below). Chia seeds have only become a commercially popular health food in the last decade or so, but they’re actually one of the oldest forms of nutrition, and were a staple of Mayan and Aztec diets. These tiny seeds can expand to hold about 10 times their dry weight in liquid. When they absorb liquid, the seeds swell into gel-like globules reminiscent of miniature tapioca balls.
How to Eat It
You can easily make chia pudding, one of the most popular ways to eat the seeds, by mixing a quarter-cup of the seeds in one cup of liquid (almond milk and fruit juice are popular choices). Once the seeds have gelled up and the mixture is no longer watery, the “pudding” is ready to eat. This can take as little as 15 minutes, although chia pudding keeps well in the fridge for several days. Since chia doesn’t have a ton of flavor on its own, feel free to add spices, chopped fruit, nuts, and any other toppings you’d like.
Dry chia seeds can also be added whole or ground to smoothies and juices, mixed into yogurt or oatmeal, or sprinkled on top of a salad. If you’re adding the seeds to a drink or a “wet” dish like oatmeal, they’ll swell up slightly while you eat, but they’ll retain a slight crunch. And although these are some of the more common ways to eat chia, its mild flavor and compact size make it easy to slip a spoonful into pretty much anything—so experiment!
Since chia seeds are capable of absorbing a lot of liquid, it’s important to stay well-hydrated when consuming them, particularly in dry form. But you don’t have to overdo it on the water—your daily eight 8-oz. glasses will suffice just fine.
Chia seeds are often referred to as a “superfood,” which simply means they’re relatively denser in nutrients compared to other foods. These seeds have around 140 calories per two tablespoons, along with a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and protein. They also contain all nine essential amino acids, which are the muscle-building protein building blocks our bodies need but don’t produce naturally—we have to get them through our food. Chia seeds don’t need to be ground before eating to get the nutritional benefits—eating them whole will have the same effect, and how you like to eat them is just a matter of personal preference.
You can find chia at any Whole Foods Market, health food stores, and well-stocked supermarkets like Kroger. Some of the more widely available chia seed brands include The Chia Co., Nutiva, and Bob’s Red Mill. All chia seeds are naturally vegan and gluten-free, but check the packaging if you want to buy seeds that are certified organic and non-GMO. Look for seeds that are either a speckled black or white, but not uniformly brown. The Chia Co. founder John Foss explains brown chia seeds are immature seeds that haven’t had a chance to mature properly, and this can result in fewer nutritional benefits and give the seeds a bitter taste.
How to Store
Chia seeds have a long shelf life, and will keep for several years when stored in a cool, dry place. Easy!
Written by Jessica Lewis, CPT, CNC, HCC Lifestyle Coach