What if you could get a good amount of nutrition and feel satisfied all from a tiny seed? • Think ch-ch-ch-chia. • Most of us remember that jingle (you’re probably singing it as you read this) advertising 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.
“They are an amazing tiny seed and really inexpensive, and a little goes a long way,” says Andrea McNinch, 37, 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 does.
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.
“In the last two years, chia has grown from being known in the health food community to being available at Costco,” says Amber Poupore, 34, owner of the Cacao Tree Cafe in Royal Oak. She uses chia in smoothies and desserts and to make a dehydrated seed bread.
Food companies also 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.
“It’s certainly a trend that’s been real hot,” says Tedd Handelsman, owner of Better Health Store locations in Michigan.
“We’ve carried them for a couple of years, and they are gaining in popularity,” he says, adding that chia is becoming as popular as flax seed in the functional food category.
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,” published last spring. The book 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,” Coates says. “If there is brown — it is not good, and it can mean the seeds are immature.”