If you shop at Whole Foods or a natural grocery store, you've probably noticed a lot of chia seed products popping up lately — in pure seed form, in strange gelatinous-looking drinks, and in new raw superfood snack bars.
Chia's definitely in vogue among health foodies these days — and for good reason. The omega-3 rich, antioxidant-rich, fiber-rich seeds are also a great source of calcium, potassium, magnesium and other important micronutrients. Read all the great stuff Dr. Andrew Weil has to say about this superfood!
Incorporating chia into your food is fairly easy, since the tiny, sesame-seed sized seeds can be sprinkled onto anything. That said, I generally like to eat only soaked chia. The amazing seeds can soak up nine to 12 times their weight in water, turning into little gelatinous blobs with a tapioca-like look and texture. This water-absorbing quality makes soaked chia a great, filling way to get extra fluids in with your food — but also makes unsoaked chia rather drying to the body when consumed without water.
My favorite chia dish to make? Chia pudding — or chia oatmeal or tapioca, depending on what you'd like to call it. Basically, making this consists of putting chia seeds in a sweetened and spiced nut milk and letting it soak to plump up. I made Vanilla Chia Tapioca Pudding once as a dessert using a recipe from "Crazy Sexy Diet," but lately, I've been making a simpler, less sweet chia pudding for breakfast with the recipe from "Going Raw." The result? A nice cool alternative to oatmeal that packs a serious nutritional punch, too!
I've gotten obsessed enough with my chia pudding breakfasts that I've been trying to figure out the best chia seeds to use.
The ones I tried looked pretty much identical — and they tasted identical, too. Chia seeds have a slight nutty taste, but are otherwise somewhat bland and basic in flavor (you know, like oatmeal) — which is why the seeds make such a great pudding-like base you can top with other stronger flavors like spices and fruits. So far, my research tells me that chia seeds don't have much variety in terms of look or taste — which means picking one chia seed brand over another can be based on other factors, like sustainability, nutrition and of course, price.
I wondered how two brands available to me — The Chia Co. and Salba Smart — stacked up, so I did some research. The Chia Co.'s seeds grow in Australia, at a latitude in which the company claims is ideal for "maximizing the omega-3 oil profile in each seed. The Chia Co. also promises to use sustainable farming practices — a claim that nutritionist Ashley Koff, who's visited The Chia Co.'s farms first hand, attested to at an L.A.-area launch party for the company in March — but is not organic certified.
Salba Smart, in contrast, is grown in Peru, also in an area that the company claims makes for a more nutritious product. Salba is a specific, registered variety of chia, which the company says provides the most nutritious and most consistent nutritional profile than other chia products that can contain a mix of different, inferior chia varieties with varying nutritional profiles. Most importantly — at least for me — Salba Smart's products are certified organic.
Of course, there are many other chia brands out there, so my experimenting and evaluating continues. What chia brand do you like and recommend? And for my curiosity's sake: have you ever found a chia brand with seeds that you believe actually taste better than others? And if you're a chia newbie, here's a simple chia pudding recipe from Whole Foods to get you started.
Related on MNN: 10 uses for chia seed