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Food for Thought
Did you have a Chia Pet when you were growing up? I did, and loved it, though now I would consider it a colossal waste of perfectly good chia seeds!
The same tiny seeds that we smeared on those terra cotta planters are actually a powerhouse of protein, antioxidants, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, and omega-3 fatty acids. A tablespoon of chia seeds has approximately (sources differ slightly) 60 calories, 5 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fat. Unlike flaxseed, there is no need to grind them for most uses. They can be toasted and used as a topping for many dishes, added to baked goods, whisked into water or juice for a refreshing drink, or blended into a smoothie.
Chia seeds absorb many times their weight in liquid and produce a gelatinous substance that can replace a portion of fats in baked goods. To try this, mix one tablespoon of seeds with nine tablespoons of water, stir briskly, and allow the mixture to sit for 20 minutes. It will turn into a thick gel. (If you don't want visible seeds in the gel, you can grind the seeds before adding water.) Replace up to half the fat (butter, oil, shortening) in your recipe with chia gel. To use chia instead of an egg as a binder in meatloaf or meatballs, use about a quarter of a cup of the gel. If you have leftover chia gel, cover it tightly and refrigerate it for up to a week.
Chia gel is great for baking, but if you mix the seeds into a liquid for drinking, be sure you use plenty of liquid and whisk the heck out of it. Don't walk away and forget about it for a half hour or you'll be trying to choke down a thick . . . glob. Not appetizing.
My favorite way to consume chia seeds is to mix them in juice. Orange juice works well, but my current "mixer" is raspberry lemonade.
We grow a lot of raspberries in the garden, so I run some through my food mill and keep raspberry juice in the freezer. I fill a glass half full of fresh lemonade, add a couple of tablespoons of raspberry juice and a tablespoon of chia, and mix it well. (Whisk, whisk, whisk!) You can add ice if you wish, or even a little club soda. Let it sit for a few minutes, whisking now and then, and then enjoy. It's kind of like bubble tea, which I love, but if you have issues with food textures, you may want to pass on chia drinks and move right on to baking with them instead.
Some sources can sound like a snake oil ad, citing a long list of possible benefits from eating chia seeds. There are claims that chia lowers blood pressure, reduces cholesterol, stops food cravings, promotes colon health, helps balance blood sugar, and helps reduce joint pain. Dr. Oz includes chia seeds in his list of The 5 Supplements You Need. Whether you're a Dr. Oz fan or not, that's still an impressive recommendation.
The jury is out regarding their effectiveness in weight loss; as usual, I can find opinions on each end of the spectrum. The few studies that have been completed aren't very encouraging, but since chia seeds are considered low carb and high fiber, I don't see how they could be anything but helpful when trying to lose weight. Many people report an increase in energy when eating them regularlywhich is enough of a reason to add chia to my daily diet!
Because of a variety of medical conditions, there are some people who probably shouldn't eat chia seeds. For example, if you are taking medicine for high blood pressure or blood thinners, keep in mind that chia can lower blood pressure, and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can thin the blood. Or if you are allergic to other seeds, like mustard or sesame, you may want to skip the chia. If you have any doubts, be sure to check with your doctor before consuming large quantities of seeds.
Chia seeds may have been used as early as 3500 B.C., and they later became an important crop for the Aztecs. They called it "running food" and ate it to increase their endurance. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived, they realized how important chia was to the Aztec culture and burned their fields in an effort to demoralize them. Luckily for us, chia somehow survived the mayhem.
In the book Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, chia is referred to as "home-brewed Red Bull." The author writes about the Tarahumara tribe of northwestern Mexico, known for their long-distance barefoot running. Their energy drink is called Iskiate, and consists of water, lime, sugar, and chia. Sounds a lot healthier than a can full of caffeine, doesn't it?
Muffins, scones, and breads are all good choices for whole chia seeds. Unless I'm replacing fats, I don't bother to soak them; I add them for the crunch! For cakes or pastries with a more tender texture, you will want to grind the seeds in a coffee or spice grinder.
Here is a simple scone recipe with a nice blend of textures and flavors. It isn't overly sweet, which I appreciate. Don't get me wrongI love me some sugar! But a scone (like a muffin) should be just barely sweet. Sprinkle scones with sugar, dunk them in icing, smother them with jam, but the pastry itself shouldn't taste like a Twinkie!
Speaking of muffins, I made apple chia muffins for a club meeting and they were a big hit with the ladies. The recipe is a little more involved than most muffin recipes, but it is absolutely worth the time. They will fill your home with the fragrance of apples and cinnamon, and announce the arrival of fall. They freeze well, too, if you have any left over.
For a more savory chia treat, I found a recipe for Endurance Crackers on the Internet. Angela Liddon was inspired to make these crackers after trying them at the Chocolatree Café in Sedona, Arizona. Here's a picture of how mine turned out, but I am going to give you a link for her recipe and instructions, since she has such wonderful pictures and clear directions. I just added a little kosher salt and Worcestershire sauce to mine. I had a little trouble with the crackers sticking to the parchment paper, so next time I'll try oiling the parchment lightly, but overall this is a very simple treat to make. Delicious!
I've read that chia is ridiculously easy to grow. I beg to differ. Maybe if I lived in Mexico or Southern California I could grow my own, but certainly not in Eastern Washington! Of course, it didn't help that my husband "cleaned up" my chia bed with the weed trimmer. I produced the obligatory hissy fit, but wasn't really too upsetthe chia was barely able to be seen among the weeds, and never would have survived. I buy organic chia seeds in 3-pound bags online from Nutiva, but they're also being stocked in many stores now.
A Few More Ideas
Sprinkle chia seeds on your cold or hot cereal, mix them with water or juice, blend them into a smoothie, bake them into breads and pastries, use them in place of sesame seeds in a stir-fry, add them to a salad dressing, or just eat them as they are. Even if the hype turns out to be overly optimistic, there are plenty of reasons to be impressed with these little seeds and to eat them every day.
Contact Lorinda at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lorinda resides in Eastern Washington, where she joyously combines her love of cooking and gardening. Baking is her passion, and licking the batter off the spoon after making a cake is her reward. When she's not in the kitchen, she's out in the garden pulling weeds and snacking on young peas. Enjoy Lorinda's blog, The Rowdy Baker.
Food for Thought copyright 2013.