Ingredient Spotlight: Chia Seeds

For many, the word "chia" conjures up an image of Chia Pets – those terracotta figurines with sprouts for hair – but it turns out there's way more to these little seeds than kitsch factor. A member of the mint family, chia (Salvia hispanica) is native to Mexico and Guatemala and has been cultivated since pre-Columbian times. Legend has it that Aztec warriors could sustain themselves for an entire day with one tablespoon of chia seeds. Recently hailed as a "superfood," these tiny seeds (about one millimeter in diameter) are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, dietary fiber, and other nutrients.

Our first taste of chia seeds came in the form of chia fresca, a Mexican lemonade drink in which the liquid-soaked seeds form an intriguing gelatin-like texture, kind of like tiny tapioca pearls. The mostly flavorless seeds may also be used ground or whole in smoothies, cereals, salads, and baked goods. We use them for added texture in our morning granola or yogurt.

In last week's post on vegan egg substitutes, reader missjulia suggested using 1 tablespoon of chia seeds plus 2 tablespoons of water to replace an egg in baking recipes. Chia seeds are also used as a binder in gluten-free baking. Here are a few more resources and recipes:

Agua de Chia (Rachel Laudan)
Recipes Using Chia Seeds & Powder (Navitas Naturals)
How to Use Chia Seeds and Flour in Gluten-Free Recipes (About.com)
Gluten-Free Recipes using Chia Seed Slurry (Gluten Free Blog)

Have you used chia seeds in your cooking or baking?

Related: What To Do With Amaranth

(Image: Emily Ho)

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