Chia seeds, known since 3500 B.C., are considered a superfood for their medicinal properties. In pre-Columbian times, the Mayans used them as a dietary and medicinal base along with maize, beans, and amaranth.
Although their cultivation fell into disuse, in 1991 the University of Arizona recognized their nutritional properties, revitalizing their production (see article). They are currently common in countries such as the USA, Mexico, and Argentina.
What are chia seeds?
Chia is an annual herbaceous plant belonging to the Labiatae family, which produces a seed that is 2 mm long by 1.5 mm wide, ranging in color from speckled gray to dark brown.
This small seed is a powerful source of antioxidants and proteins, making it an ideal food for vegan and vegetarian diets.
Chia requires tropical and subtropical climates to grow correctly and prefers soils that are not too moist. It is a plant that does not tolerate frost and requires plenty of sunlight. At the end of the summer, the flowers produce a fruit which houses the seeds.
Nutritional properties of Chia
Chia seeds are a very energetic food and a renowned source of omega 3 fatty acids, which help to improve brain function. In fact, chia represents the plant source with the highest content of Omega 3.
They contain almost all essential amino acids, soluble and insoluble fiber, a variety of minerals, and vitamin E and complex B vitamins.
Chia seeds are an optimal food for maintaining cardiovascular health and an excellent source of proteins for vegetarian diets.
This excellent nutritional composition makes them an ideal food to control cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and blood pressure.
On the other hand, thanks to their fiber content, they facilitate digestion, improve intestinal transit, and provide satiety.
Among their vitamins, the B complex stands out, which protects the body from numerous conditions, for example, cardiovascular diseases.
The mineral content of chia seeds is also noteworthy, especially calcium. It has between 6 and 10 times more calcium than cow’s milk, which, although not 100% assimilable, can be improved by using the correct preparation techniques.
Chia is rich in iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and manganese and, conversely, is very low in sodium.
They are gluten-free, which makes them suitable for celiacs, and are low in sodium, thus contributing to maintaining cardiovascular health. Thanks to their protein contribution, they strengthen muscle development and tissue regeneration.
What benefits does their consumption bring?
In addition to the aforementioned cardiovascular benefits, chia seeds act as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiplatelet, anticancer, antiviral, laxative, immunostimulant agents, etc.
In the case of pathologies such as depression, celiac disease, obesity, diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, and cardiac conditions, the consumption of chia seeds can improve these conditions.
Due to their iron content, they are useful for the treatment of anemia and for pregnant women who follow vegetarian or vegan diets.
Chia seeds in the Kitchen
Chia seeds can be used in many ways and in a variety of preparations. As they have no flavor, they easily adapt to sweet and savory recipes, providing texture and color.
But before we look at their applications in the kitchen, it is necessary to clarify an issue that often generates much controversy: their activation.
The seeds have a physical and chemical barrier system that allows them to survive in adverse environments. The problem with these barriers is that they can cause heavy digestions and prevent taking advantage of the nutritional richness of the seed, therefore, it is necessary to activate them.
Activating seeds is nothing more than subjecting them to ideal temperature and humidity conditions so that they can germinate. This way they reach their maximum nutritional potential and ease digestion.
How to activate Chia seeds?
The first step to activate chia seeds is to wash them thoroughly with water, to remove dirt and any impurities they may contain. Then, you must place them in a glass with water, juice, or another beverage, stir with a wooden spoon, and leave them between 15-30 minutes.
When placed in a liquid medium, they produce a kind of gel, called mucilage, which has a protective effect on the intestinal wall and promotes motility. For this reason, it should not be discarded and must be consumed along with the seed.
Another way is to consume the chia seed crushed with a mortar or grinder, or to buy it already ground and store it in a dark and cool environment.
This is necessary because being such small seeds they tend not to be chewed and pass unchanged through the digestive tract, without taking advantage of the potential benefits of their fatty acids.
Now that we have clarified this, let’s look at some of their many culinary uses.
- Chia oil: chia oil can be made from organically grown seeds, cold-pressed and without refinement. This ensures that the concentration of omega 3 fatty acids is so high that a teaspoonful would suffice to meet the needs. One thing to keep in mind is that oils should always be consumed raw. On the other hand, if you combine it with sunflower oil, you will obtain a better supply of essential fatty acids.
- Chia flour: it is obtained by grinding whole or pre-defatted seeds. It contains all the benefits of chia and offers the advantage of easing its culinary use. If the flour is obtained from whole seeds, it should be stored in an airtight container in a cool place and away from light.
- Seeds as such: you can add whole or ground chia seeds to many different preparations. For example, sprinkle them over a salad, add them to a sauce (which also provides a liquid medium for the seeds to hydrate), or include them in homemade baked goods. In other words, chia seeds are extremely versatile. They combine perfectly with yogurts and dairy desserts, enriching the preparations and providing health benefits.