What are Chia Seeds?

Posted On: July 26, 2017
Throughout Latin America grows a plant with violet flowers that hold the seeds to better health and well-being. Chia, known to botanists as salvia columbarie, is a relative of the mint family and one of the most revered and respected plants in Aztec history. In the United States, chia first gained notoriety as the “fur” sprouting from animal-shaped “Chia Pets” widely advertised on television and sold in drugstores. Most didn’t know the chia seeds they were spreading on the terra-cotta planters were a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids and alpha linolenic acid (ALA). Both help control blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation in the human body.

Cooking with Chia

Although chia seeds don’t have a strong flavor and aren’t especially pretty to look at, a tablespoon of the tiny brown-black ovals adds a stockpile of vitamins, antioxidants, and omega-3 nutrients to anything they enhance. Health-conscious shoppers buy chia for its versatility — not only do the seeds add a pleasant nutty texture to sweet baked goods and granola bars, they work equally as well in grain salads, soup, homemade tortillas, crackers and other savory items. The nutritional benefit of chia seeds is comparable to flax seeds, but since scientific research about chia is just getting started, it’s possible the sleek Latin pods might eventually surpass flax in recorded nutritional value. What’s known for sure is that, besides omega-3, chia is a good source for your FDA daily recommended allowance of niacin, thiamine, riboflavin and folate.
Chia rises above flax as a healthy additive in one significant way: When soaked in water, a single chia seed can absorb enough liquid to expand twelve times its original size. This gelatinous coating can help plump up smoothies by replacing or minimizing the need for milk products and also works well as an egg replacement. Paleo cooks looking to reduce dairy products and saturated fat use chia gel in cookies, sweetbreads and cake, combining the gooey pearls with egg whites to firm the batter. Other enthusiasts don’t need anything to flavor their chia gel and dip their spoons directly into the raw form, enjoying it like a cup of tapioca pudding.
You don’t have be a cook to use chia; since it’s relatively tasteless, just sprinkle the seeds on your food and enjoy. Oatmeal, cereal, pudding and even organic frozen meals are a bit healthier with chia on top. When chia is added to white and light-colored foods, the dark seeds lend a peppery look that invites everyone to dig in. Be sure to buy chia seeds from a reputable outlet to avoid possible food borne illnesses caused by improper packaging and storage.

Chia’s Fascinating Past

The nutritive and medicinal properties of fiber-rich chia explain its newfound popularity in the United States, but this isn’t the first time the seeds have been held up one as of nature’s best foods. The perennial plant has been cultivated in Latin America since the sixteenth century and may have ranked next to beans and corn as a significant source of food at that time. The seeds might also have been used as a type of religious currency among people of pre-Columbian times — anthropologists have found evidence they were given in tribute to priests and state rulers. Today, chia is grown and harvested in Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Guatemala, and throughout its native Mexico. The next time you sprinkle some chia on your cereal, take a second to appreciate the long road they took to make it into your smoothie, shake or yogurt.

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