I used to sprinkle chia seeds on my salads and put them in my homemade raw museli. The little black and white seeds don’t taste like much, but they do add a bit of crunch, fiber, omega 3 , protein, iron, calcium, magnesium and antioxidants. I don’t know why I stopped buying them. I think because they have quite similar nutritional qualities to flax seed and flax seeds are easier to find.
In the last few weeks, however, I’ve come back to chia seeds. Dole (you know, the big fruit and veggie guys) have decided to get into the “naturally functional” arena and have launched a new brand: Dole Nutrition Plus. The first products to be marketed under this brand are a line of chia seed products. I received a coupon for $4 off a pack AND my local supermarket was also offering an additional couple of dollars discount on the line. I got sucked into a good deal and came home with both a tub of Dole whole chia seeds and a tub of Dole milled chia seeds.
This time though, I had decided to go beyond just sprinkling them on my salads and breakfast and I wanted to try “gelling” with chia seeds which I had previously read about but had never tried. There’s a couple of basic things you need to know about how to gel chia seeds and then the rest is up to imagination and experimentation.
The basic rules are:
- A ratio of about a tablespoon of chia to half a cup of liquid makes a thickish gel. It’s not as thick as jello (jelly) but more like a sago pudding in thickness and texture.
- The seeds need to soak in the liquid for about 10 minutes for them to jellify.
- The mix needs whisking or it will clump. I found whisking at the beginning, once or twice in the middle and again at the end of the setting period worked perfectly.
- Chia has such a mild flavour that it will take on the flavour of the liquid (but this means if the liquid doesn’t have much flavour then you’ll probably want to add some other kind of flavouring).
With my two chia tubs on hand and my almost 3 year old taste tester waiting at the dining room table these are some of the ways I’ve used chia gel in the last few weeks.
This is Ana’s new favourite breakfast. She came up with the name. I’m not sure if it was because she was in her PJs eating bananas or it looks like the bananas are wearing PJs but the name is cute so it has stuck. For a single serve I whisk together 1/2 a tablespoon of milled chia with 1/4 cup of almond milk. Let it stand for about 10 minutes whisking a couple of times to avoid clumps. I add a bit of ginger and cinnamon for flavour (almond milk and chia by itself is fine but a bit boring flavour wise). Once the gel has thickened I cut half a banana into the mix and microwave for a minute and it’s done. You may want to drizzle with a little honey on if it’s not sweet enough for your taste but I find if there is a good banana to chia gel ratio it tastes great.
This was another instant hit with Ana. I used the whole seeds in all my pudding experiments as it gave a sago type consistency which I quite liked. For this orange pudding I simply whisked a tablespoon of whole seeds with a 1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice. (Note: this is slightly less liquid to seed ratio as described above but I wanted a thicker consistency for the puddings). I did the ‘whisk, let it stand, whisk routine’ for 10 to 15 minutes and there you have it, an orange pudding that’s full of goodness. Ana thought this was a real treat.
The next night I made another pudding with chia, almond milk, freshly grated ginger, cinnamon and some raisins. Ana thought that was delicious too – especially the raisins. I’d like to try some of these puddings with coconut milk which I think will be delicious but I haven’t done so yet.
Chia can be used as a nutritious thickening agent and is a good alternative to thickening with flour. I’ve tried both making a gel (with the milled chia and water) and adding it and also just sprinkling milled chia on top then stirring it in. I think sprinkling on top worked a bit better. Chia can be used to thicken soups, stews, smoothies or whatever you like.
Other ideas I haven’t tried but I thought I’d pass on:
- An egg substitute for baking: For each egg use a tablespoon of milled chia in a quarter of a cup of water. I don’t bake so haven’t tried this myself but I’d love to hear from someone if they have. This would be a great idea for someone with egg allergies or vegans.
- Banana icecream: blend a frozen banana, 1/3 cup almond milk and a tablespoon chia seeds.
- Cauliflower mash: combine 2 tablespoons chia seeds with a cup water and make to a gel. Blend the gel with a cooked cauliflower. Add butter and seasoning if you wish.
- Chia butter: blend butter with chia seeds for a chia spread.
- Broccoli sauce: Make a gel from 2 tablespoons chia seeds with a cup of vegetable stock. Blend with a cooked broccoli.
Chia is also gluten free and has been touted as the next greatest “magic pill” for weight loss. Whilst chia seeds can be part of a weight loss diet (the fiber and protein content help you stay fuller for longer and it has high nutritional value for its calories) but I found several chia websites that over sell the “magic seed”, “super food”, “weight loss secret” angle. Particularly when a site would spruik eating chia seeds for weight loss then suggest sprinkling them on ice cream, making gel toppings for cheese cake and whipping up drinks which require a cup of sugar in them. Topping ice cream, cheese cake and sugar with chia seeds doesn’t magically turn these junk foods into health foods. These seeds are good, but they’re not that good.
One other note of warning, if you are on a paleo diet Dr Cordain (The paleo diet founder) thinks we shouldn’t eat chia due to their anti-nutrients and phytic acid content. You can google more about that if you’re interested (I also touched on a similar complaints about legumes in this post). There are are other paleo proponents who support eating chia seeds and believe the benefits out weigh any potential adverse effects. Apparently if your diet is quite low in fiber devouring big chia seed puddings may leave you feeling bloated and gassy. We haven’t noticed that around here but we eat a really high fiber diet already. Perhaps begin with small amounts if you think your insides might get a bit cranky.
The verdict in our family? Two thumbs up. A tub of seeds is quite expensive but a tablespoon goes a long way and they certainly pack a good nutritional punch. Chia breakfasts are becoming quite regular around here. Oh, and I’ve found another coupon on the Dole Nutrition website (click here if you are in the US if you want to try it too – look for the link at the right hand side of the graphic). Even without a coupon I think we’ll be keeping a tub of chia seed in the cupboard from now on. We’re sold on it.