Monday, March 26, 2012

Ch-Ch-Chia! A Complete Source of Protein

At a recent food styling photo shoot we prepared a dessert containing chia seeds. I had never worked with chia seeds, and I could not help randomly blurting out ch-ch-chia! every once in a while.  As a child I watched those grow your own chia pet commercials, and I have a vague memory of a comedy sketch that involved bald men spreading a chia seed paste on their heads in order to "sprout" hair. It may have been on SNL. All silliness aside the results of the recipe we prepared for our shoot were intriguing and inspired me to get to know chia seeds a bit better.  Here are 2 thorough descriptions of the seed:
Move over flax and hemp. The latest super seed to sprout on store shelves is ch-ch-ch-chia, a cousin of the seeds (Salvia columbariae) you once used to grow a crop of green hair atop your clay “pet.” The chia seed now sold as a nutty topping for yogurts and salads and used in cereals, energy bars, even pastas, is a different variety called Salvia hispanica. This type of chia reportedly packs more alpha-linoleic acid, an omega-3 fat, than flax seeds, and also provides fiber, antioxidants and even some calcium and iron. A member of the mint family that is abundant in Mexico and South America, chia was highly prized by the Aztecs, who believed it provided supernatural powers. Today, it’s being touted for having cardiovascular benefits, reducing blood sugar levels and perhaps even squelching hunger pangs.

They are a complete source of protein, providing all the essential amino acids in an easily digestible form. They are also a fabulous source of soluble fibre. Like flax, chia is highly hydrophilic: the seeds absorb water and create a mucilaginous gel. They can hold 9-12 times their weight in water and they absorb it very rapidly - in under 10 minutes. One advantage of chia is that because it has such a high antioxidant content, the seeds stay stable for much longer, whereas flax, for example, may turn rancid. Chia seeds can easily be stored dry for 4-5 years without deterioration in flavour, odour or nutritional value. You can substitute chia in any recipe that calls for flax.

Raw food eaters enjoy chia seeds for their many health benefits, and because they do not require cooking. Chia seeds can be thrown into salads, over yogurt, and in baking. Chia seed's ability to absorb liquids quickly, and their neutral flavor,  allow for a diverse range of flavoring possibilities.   Chia seeds, when made into a gel, can be used as a thickener or as a binding agent (replacing eggs or flax seeds), in various recipes.  A chia gel is made by combining a liquid and the seeds (whole or ground). For quick puddings leave them whole and steep them in rice, coconut, soy, cow or almond milk (2 tablespoons chia seeds to 1 cup  milk).  Add a sweetener such as honey, maple or agave syrup and 1/4 teaspoon extract such as vanilla, almond, lemon or maple. They need to steep for about 20-30 minutes, but the longer you leave it the thicker the pudding will be.

Chia Iced Tea
  • 3 orange pekoe tea bags
  • 1 l (4 cups) water
  • 30 ml (2 tablespoons) chia seeds (whole)
  • 45 ml (3 tablespoons) liquid honey
  • 5 ml lemon zest 
  • 15 ml lemon juice
  • In a large pot bring the water to a boil. Remove pot from heat and add tea bags. Cover and steep for 10 minutes. Add the lemon zest.  When tea is just warm add the chia seeds and the honey.  Stir the tea every 5 minutes for 30 minutes to prevent the chia seeds from clumping.  Chill.  Add lemon juice and rectify the sweetness if necessary before serving.  Leaving this tea over night will allow the chia seeds to absorb the maximum amount of liquids and you will have something like a bubble tea experience! Serve cold with lots of ice and lemon slices.

I will share a link to the delicious recipe we prepared for our shoot when it is published in a few months, but until then grab a bag of chia seeds from your local health food store and try a few of these recipes:
Here is a quote from which highlights some medical benefits of chia seeds:

The Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center cites a study that showed that chia seed supplementation significantly reduced several risk factors for cardiovascular disease in 20 subjects with Type II diabetes. Effects included decreased blood pressure and fibrinogen and C-reactive protein levels. However, the center also states that these results indicate that chia seeds may increase the effects of medications to lower blood pressure. If you are currently taking anti-hypertensive drugs, or have other risks for heart disease, please consult with a qualified health care practitioner before using this dietary supplement.

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