Chia seeds are black and white. If they're brown, they're probably not any good and could be immature.


What if you could get a good amount of nutrition and feel satisfied all from a tiny seed?

Think ch-ch-ch-chia.

Most of us remember that jingle advertising the terra-cotta planters in the shape of pets. Once you soak the seeds and slather the gooey mixture on the planter, it sprouts fuzzy greens in a few days.

Turns out those black seeds are full of nutrients.

"They are an amazing tiny seed and really inexpensive, and a little goes a long way," says Andrea McNinch, 37, owner of Healing Yourself Institute and Regeneration Raw in Royal Oak, Mich.

McNinch has been using chia for at least seven years and says the seeds have "two times the potassium as bananas and three times the reported antioxidants that blueberries have."

Chia seeds are often compared to flax seeds because they have similar nutritional profiles. But the main difference is that chia seeds don't need to be ground the way flax seeds do. Chia also has a longer shelf life and does not go rancid like flax does.

From a culinary perspective, McNinch says, chia acts as a binder and thickens and emulsifies things.

"Adding in chia bulks up your food without the calories and fat and without diminishing the flavor," she says. "You can add chia to anything."

Raw and sprinkled on foods or soaked in water to create a gelatinous thickener, chia seeds are a source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and fiber.

Often cited as an authority on chia, Wayne Coates is an agricultural engineer and professor emeritus at the University of Arizona. He wrote "Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood," published last spring.

The book discusses the history of chia and its health benefits and includes plenty of recipes.

"It's not a supplement and is a food in the FDA's eyes," says Coates. "Which means you can consume as much as you like."

Coates does urge caution when choosing chia seeds.

"Chia is only black or white," he says. "If there is brown - it is not good, and it can mean the seeds are immature."

Food companies are getting into chia - global product launches of foods containing chia were up 78 percent in 2012, according to research firm Mintel. Dole Nutrition Plus launched a line of whole and milled chia and products containing chia.

"It's certainly a trend that's been real hot," says Tedd Handelsman, owner of Better Health Store locations in Michigan.

Chia Rice Salad

Serves: 6

• 1/2 cup chia gel (see note)

• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

• 2 tablespoons lemon juice

• 1 to 2 cloves of garlic, minced

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary or oregano leaves, minced

• 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

• 3 cups cooked brown rice (long grain, basmati or short grain)

• 1 small zucchini, julienned

• 1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped

• 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a small bowl, combine chia gel, oil, lemon, garlic, salt, herbs and cayenne. Whisk until well-blended. (You can also put ingredients into a tightly closed jar and shake vigorously to mix.)

In a large bowl, combine the rice, vegetables and Parmesan cheese, if using. Pour the dressing over the rice mixture, combining gently and thoroughly.

Note: To make chia gel, pour 1 cup cool water into a sealable plastic or glass container. Slowly pour 1 3/4 tablespoons chia seeds into water while briskly mixing with wire whisk. Wait 3 or 4 minutes, then whisk again. Let the mixture stand about 10 minutes before whisking again. Store this mixture in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

From "Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood" by Wayne Coates (Sterling Publishing, $17.95).

Chia Seed Muffins

Makes: 12 muffins

• 1 stick ( 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

• 3/4 cup raw or regular sugar

• 2 large eggs, lightly beaten

• 3/4 cup plain yogurt

• 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

• 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour

• 1/3 cup chia seeds

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Optional topping

• 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin pans with paper liners or lightly grease.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in the eggs, yogurt and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, chia seeds, salt and baking soda.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and blend until just combined. Do not overmix.

Fill each muffin cup 2/3 full of batter.

Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar if using. Bake until golden-brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly before removing from the tin.

From "Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood."

Green Super Smoothie

Makes: 1 serving

• 1 tablespoon chia seeds

• 1 1/2 cups pear juice, coconut water, water or a mixture

• 3 romaine lettuce or kale leaves

• 1 small cucumber, peeled

• 3 parsley sprigs

Add all the ingredients to a blender and liquefy using the most powerful setting. Blend until smooth. Drink immediately.

From "Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood."

Chia Frittata

Serves: 2

• 3 large eggs

• 1 teaspoon chia gel

• 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped cooked vegetables

• Vegetable oil as needed

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth.

Add the chia gel and whisk until combined.

Add the vegetables and stir until combined.

In a large skillet over medium heat, add oil. Pour in the egg mixture and cook, without stirring, until the eggs are set completely. Allow to cool in the pan slightly before sliding onto a cutting board. Cut into wedges to serve.

From "Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood."


Here are some suggestions for using raw chia seeds:

• Sprinkle over yogurt, oatmeal and cereals.

• Stir into drinks and smoothies.

• Toss into mixed greens, rice, pasta or potato salads.

• Add to muffin and cookie recipes.

• Make a pudding, stirring the seeds into almond milk (or other dairy, rice or coconut milk).

• In a clean coffee grinder, grind the seeds into a coarse flour (often called milled chia) and use it in baked goods.

• To make chia gel: Soak about 2 tablespoons of seeds in 1 cup cool water. The seeds will swell and the mixture will become gelatinous. Thin the gel if it's too thick. Add the gel to water and drink as is or use it as an egg substitute in some recipes (you may need to adjust the other liquids in the recipe). You can also use the gel as a thickening agent in salad dressing and some sauces and soups.

Sources: Free Press Research and "Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood" by Wayne Coates.

Where to buy chia seeds

Here are some places to buy chia in Tucson, with prices starting at $4.99 per 8-ounce bag:

• Food Conspiracy Co-op, 412 N. Fourth Ave.

• Sprouts, all Tucson locations.

• Trader Joe's, all Tucson locations.

• Whole Foods Market, both Tucson locations.