Health Benefits and Culinary Uses of Chia Seeds

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Chia Seeds. Photo Credit: Allyson Kramer

Chia seeds were once known to most of the United States as part of the famous gag gift, the Chia Pet. Chia seeds have been an important staple in its native countries of Mexico and Guatamala since Pre-Columbian times, and some speculate that it was just as important a crop as maize to the Aztecs. The word “chia” comes from the Nahuatl word “chian”, which means “oily”. But, once health conscious consumers got wind of its health benefits and culinary uses, it lost the silly reputation and the chia seed is now touted as a “superfood”.

Available whole or ground, chia seeds are a wonderful addition to a vegan diet, working well as a thickener, egg replacer, and simply a crunchy topping to so many foods, such as soy or almond yogurt.

Chia seeds are small, oval, and mottled, usually with flecks of white, black, and grey. Sometimes the seeds will be labeled according to their color, as seen on bags labeled “white chia seeds”, although any color can be used interchangeably in baking or simply snacking. Chia seeds are usually available at your local health foods store, tucked away in a typical grocery chain’s natural food isle, located in the bulk section or near other seeds, such as flaxseed. 

To make an easy vegan friendly egg replacer to use for binding together baked goods, such as pies, cookies, cakes and more, simply use about ½ tablespoon ground chia seeds mixed with 2 tablespoons water to create one “egg”. The ground chia is dark in color and may add a slighter darker hue to the end result of baked goods, but are easily masked in desserts made with chocolate.

Another great use of chia seeds is to use them to bind "burger" patties and vegan meatballs together, rather than breadcrumbs, which provides a nice nutritional boost as well as excellent binding power.

Fresh ground chia seeds are best to use, if available. You can easily grind whole chia seeds using a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder, or you can seek out pre-ground chia seeds, or chia meal, available from select brands.

Be aware, though, that pre-ground chia has a shorter shelf-life than the whole seeds, and should be stored in an airtight container—preferably in the refrigerator. 

Chia seeds also work great as a thickener, adding bulk to smoothies, salad dressing, and stews when blended into liquids. Add chia seeds to your salads, oatmeal, or bowl of cereal for an extra bit of crunch. These little seeds are a nutritious addition to your diet, boasting high amounts of fiber, protein, omega-3s, and even calcium.