I’m usually not much for health fads. Every few years it seems a new yet ancient grain or seed is popularized, high praises sung everywhere and usually with good reasons that have been well researched. Quinoa and flax may have had had their moments, but chia seeds are the new superfood, only growing in popularity lately. Chia seeds are indeed the little black or white seeds you may have once grown into a pet, the very same tiny things that sprouted Kevin Nealon’s hair into a green and thriving cure for male pattern baldness. But all joking aside, chia seeds are remarkably healthy and can easily be added to numerous things improving not only nutrition but taste as well.
It has been at least two years since I first heard the first whisperings about chia and it’s healthy nature, a year since I started my own experiments when a friend mailed me a little packet of them just for fun. The impossibly tiny seeds reminded me of microscopic dinosaur eggs, each one appearing unique and beautiful when properly studied. If I'm honest, I've never cared much for flax or the aftertaste it leaves, and chia seeds were crunchy, better tasting (almost tasteless actually) alternative... and they could made liquids the texture of tapioca, which is one of my favorite things. It wasn't long until my dutiful flax was happily replaced by sleeker, more sophisticated chia, and since the start of my sugar-free January, I have eaten chia nearly every day.
With every article I read outlining the healthy reasons for chia, I only seem to get more excited about it. It is a very good habit I have gotten into, since chia is incredibly high in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids. It is also high in calcium and is a complete protein, another healthy plant-based source like quinoa and amaranth that assist vegetarians and vegans in getting vital nutritional requirements. Unlike flax, their nutrition is readily available to the body without grinding, making it even easier to add a tablespoon or two to smoothies, muffins (or cupcakes!), bread or pizza doughs, or desserts. Chia is also shelf stable for a much longer time than flax, which can go rancid fast due to its oil content. They can absorb liquid more than 9 times their volume making them a great egg replacer, a low-calorie bulk that keeps dieters feeling full, and (most importantly to me) making them an excellent base for healthy puddings.
Chia gels as it soaks in water.
I tried my first chia pudding (this delicious cardamom cashew one) in January, and have had some type of chia pudding in my fridge ever since. If made with nut or coconut milks, they keep well for about a week under refrigeration – and now that I’ve made a number of them, I have a good feel for how many tablespoons of seeds, 6-7 tablespoons for every 3 cups of liquid, to add to my liquid to get a nice set on my pudding. You can scale up or down depending on how thick you like your puddings.
Chia puddings take nearly no time to make, but if you are feeling pressed for time or aren’t feeling very creative, a teaspoon or two stirred into a pot of store-bought, already sweetened yogurt makes a quick substitute. I prefer making my own puddings so I can use alternative sweeteners. I have used maple syrup, honey, dates, prunes and even dried apricots to flavor chia puddings, all with good results. If you don’t have a high speed blender to completely blend the dried fruits, try soaking them in hot water for a half hour first to soften them. (A more textured pudding isn’t a bad thing, either!) Chia puddings will set (or gel) in about 15 minutes, but I like to make them a few hours before eating them for the flavors to blend more fully.
Chocolate-Cayenne Chia Pudding (adapted from Yum Universe)
yield about 3 cups
1/2 c. walnuts
2 c. water
1/4 c. cocoa powder
3 dried prunes
1/2 t. cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 t. cassia cinnamon
1 t. vanilla extract
6 T. chia seeds
cacao nibs for serving, optional
Combine all ingredients except the chia seeds and cacao nibs (if using) in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a bowl, and stir in chia. Leave the pudding to set for at least 15 minutes in the refrigerator. Stored in the fridge, the pudding will last about a week - but you will probably eat it up long before then.
I love chocolate with chiles, so I tend to add extra cayenne to my puddings. You can always taste and add what you like. I have also experimented using fruit bases too, using a cup of frozen strawberries for a riff on a strawberry ginger pudding I had read about. Here are a few good recipes and nutritional links to help you on the road to chia discovery. I hope you become as excited about it as I have!
Raw Chia Strawberry "Jam"
Chai Flavors Chia Pudding
Chia Fresca (make with lemon or lime)
40 Ways to use Chia!
Dr. Weil on Chia for Health
Raw Reform on Chia benefits, with recipes!