Most Americans are probably familiar with chia pets—clay pots shaped like animals that you fill with chia seeds and water. The chia seeds sprout and grow green “fur” on the clay pot. Few people who own those chia pets, however, realize that chia seeds are not only edible—sprouted or not—but they’re also wonderful for your health. The ancient Aztecs of Mexico began eating unsprouted chia seeds over 500 years ago. In the Mayan language, “chia” means “strength.” The tiny seeds come in white or black varieties and are native to Mexico and Guatemala.
Today, Mexicans drink chia frescas: chia seeds stirred into water or fruit juice. When soaked in liquid for an hour or so, chia seeds grow to many times their normal size and develop a jelly-like coating. It’s this ability to absorb liquid that makes chia seeds a filling snack. Because of their smooth coating post-soaking, the seeds are easy to drink. They are slightly similar to boba—small pearls of tapioca—which Asians drink in a milky cold tea, except that chia seeds have a slightly nutty flavor while boba are almost flavorless. Chia seeds retain their crunch after being immersed in liquid while boba are very chewy. But the most important difference between these two ingredients is that boba balls don’t have the health benefits of chia seeds.
I had read that chia seeds were nutritionally similar to flax seeds in that they were high in fiber, high in omega-3 oils, and good at lowering cholesterol, but I had put off experimenting with them until a friend of mine gave me a good reason to look more closely at these tiny seeds.
My Director of Nursing at one of my skilled nursing facilities has high cholesterol so she decided to stir chia seeds into her beverages every day for three months. Because chia seeds are full of fiber and omega-3 oils, they actually helped reduce her bad cholesterol levels. And she enjoyed drinking them. So I did more research on them. Dr. Nicholas Perricone, M.D., says in his book Forever Young, “The seeds of the chia plant (salvia hispanica L.) are a concentrated source of high-quality macronutrients required by the body: omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, high-quality complete protein without gluten, and low-glycemic carbohydrates.” It turns out that chia seeds are also very rich in antioxidants, calcium, omega-6 oil, phosphorous, magnesium, iron, and zinc. It may be that chia seeds help to slow the absorption of sugar by the body, which is good news for those with high blood sugar.
So I decided I should be drinking chia seeds regularly just like my Director of Nursing. She inspired me to come up with a few chia-seed beverage recipes that I call Chia Frescas, which is featured in my FOODTRIENTS cookbook. I start with fruity drinks like strawberry lemonade and peach tea. I soak a few tablespoons of white chia seeds (I prefer the white variety to the black variety for aesthetic reasons) in one cup of water for about an hour. Chia seeds can absorb up to ten times their weight in water. It’s fun to watch them swell up and produce their characteristic jelly coating. I combine the soaked seeds with the drinks by stirring them in. The drink bases I use are so flavorful that the mild chia seeds don’t really change the taste of the drink overall. But they add interesting texture and plenty of nutrients. The chia seeds will naturally sink to the bottom of the drinks, so if you’re serving them at a party, give your guests spoons or straws to keep the chia seeds suspended in the drinks.
Please note that people who suffer from diverticulitis should avoid chia seeds along with most other seeds. Chia seeds have been known to lower blood pressure so those taking blood-pressure-lowering medication should use them with caution.
Navitas Naturals sells organic chia seeds and chia powder online.