What if you could get a good amount of nutrition and feel satisfied all from a tiny seed?
Most of us remember that jingle (you're probably singing it as you read this) used to advertise 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.
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"They are an amazing tiny seed and really inexpensive, and a little goes a long way," says Andrea McNinch, 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.
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.
Food companies 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.
Often cited as an authority on chia, Wayne Coates is an agricultural engineer and professor emeritus at the University of Arizona. He wrote Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood (Sterling Publishing, $17.95). The book, which came out last spring, discusses the history of chia and its health benefits, and includes plenty of recipes.
"It's not a supplement and is a food in the FDA's eyes," says Coates. "Which means you can consume as much as you like."
Coates does urge caution when choosing chia seeds.
"Chia is only black or white," he says. "If there is brown — it is not good, and it can mean the seeds are immature."
Chia seed muffins
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup raw or regular sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
¾ cup plain yogurt
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1⁄3 cup chia seeds
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
Cinnamon sugar (2 tablespoons sugar and ¼ teaspoon cinnamon), optional
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line regular or mini muffin pans with paper liners or lightly grease.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in eggs, yogurt and vanilla.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, chia seeds, salt and baking soda.
Slowly add dry ingredients to creamed mixture and blend until just combined. Do not overmix.
Fill each muffin cup 2⁄3 full of batter.
Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar if using. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly before removing from tin.
Makes 12 generous size regular muffins.
Nutrition information per serving: 244 calories, 11 g. fat, 32 g. carbohydrates, 6 g. protein, 115 mg. sodium, 62 mg. cholesterol, 1 g. fiber.
Green super smoothie
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1½ cups pear juice, coconut water, water or a mixture
3 romaine lettuce or kale leaves
1 small cucumber, peeled
3 parsley sprigs
Add all ingredients to a blender and liquefy using most powerful setting. Blend until smooth. Drink immediately. Makes 1 serving.
Nutrition information per serving: 123 calories, 5 g. fat, 18 g. carbohydrates, 7 g. protein, 351 mg. sodium, 0 mg. cholesterol, 4 g. fiber.
Chia rice salad
½ cup chia gel (see note)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
½ 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 also may put ingredients into a tightly closed jar and shake vigorously to mix.)
In a large bowl, combine rice, vegetables and Parmesan cheese, if using. Pour dressing over rice mixture, combining gently and thoroughly.
Note: To make chia gel, pour 1 cup cool water into a sealable plastic or glass container. Slowly pour 1¾ tablespoons chia seeds into water while briskly mixing with wire whisk. Wait 3 or 4 minutes, then whisk again. Let mixture stand about 10 minutes before whisking again. Store this mixture in the refrigerator up to 1 week.
Nutrition information per serving: 189 calories, 7 g. fat, 28 g. carbohydrates, 5 g. protein, 227 mg. sodium, 2 mg. cholesterol, 3 g. fiber.
All Recipes from Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood by Wayne Coates
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 word 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 suggestions for using raw chia seeds:
■ Sprinkle over yogurt, oatmeal and cereals.
■ Stir into drinks and smoothies.
■ Toss into 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.