WHAT ARE CHIA SEEDS?
Chia is a purple flowering plant indigenous to South America that, like quinoa, is cultivated for its seeds. And these seeds are THE American pop culture plant of choice. Chia Pets once entertained us 90’s kids, simultaneously making us feel like both loving pet owners and master gardeners. And now that our generation has grown up, as have our chia seeds. Nowadays we need to think about our health and our future (*aghh*), and once again, chia seeds are there, full of promise and wonder.
But this oft pronounced “superfood” isn’t new to the food realm. It was first cultivated by Aztecs way back when, finally making its way up to the U.S. with the popularity of Chia Pets in the 1980’s and 90’s.
CHIA SEED VARIATIONS AND USES
Seed: Chia seeds are versatile and can be worked into a number of dishes. When placed in water or liquid, the soluble fiber coating of the seed rapidly absorbs water, forming a gel layer around the insoluble fiber center. This makes it great for replacing gelatin in desserts or jams (like in this raw coconut chia parfait), adding a fun texture to water and juices (chia kombucha, anyone?!), or even as an egg replacement. But they’re also fun as dry seeds too. Sprinkle them on salads, cereal, or ice cream, mix them into your cookie batter, grind them into a gluten free flour, really anything. They don’t have much flavor but pack a mean healthy punch! And there are actually two colors of chia seeds:
- Black: The most common seeds coming from the Salvia hispanica plant.
- Golden: A related seed from the Salvia columbariae plant. But it is relatively rare in the market.
Sprout: Chia seeds can be sprouted for consumption and make a good garnish! To sprout the seeds, place equal parts chia seed and water on an unglazed terra cotta plate (if you don’t have one, a regular dish is fine), and swoosh it all around to ensure all the chia seeds get moist. Let sit about 10 minutes then tilt out any additional water. If you’re using a glazed dish, you’ll need to keep the seeds moist some other way, so line the plate with a few paper towels and set chias on top of that in a single seed layer. Cover your plate with plastic wrap and set in a sunny area. Make sure these little guys stay moist by lightly spraying them with water a few times per day. Harvest them when they’re about ½ inch tall (4 to 7 days).
HOW TO STORE CHIA SEEDS
Dry chia seeds have a shelf life of forever. Like 5 years. They’re packed with healthy oils, which means they’ll stay freshest if stored in the refrigerator and in an airtight container. They can also be frozen, but with a 5 year shelf life, do you really need to?
The word “chia” comes from the Aztec word for “oily”. Well the Aztecs must have known what was good for them, because chia seeds are packed with healthy fats. 57% of the fat in chia seeds is omega-3 fatty acid, an anti-inflammatory polyunsaturated fatty acid. The key word here is anti-inflammatory. Omega-3’s decrease risk of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides, and reduce atherosclerotic plaque build-up (all the polar opposites of what omega-3’s evil cousin, saturated fat, does).
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