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Thursday, February 21, 2013

All About Chia

One of the biggest trends I saw this year at the Winter Fancy Food Show was the explosion in the number of products with chia seeds. I first heard of chia in a "ch-ch-ch-chia, the pottery that grows!" chia pet commercial and maybe you did too.  But now chia is back and being touted as a "superfood."

Chia is showing up in everything from cereal to drinks, snacks, baked goods and even pasta. When soaked in any liquid it creates a gel that can be used in place of eggs, it also has a pleasant pudding like texture that might remind you of tapioca. Unsoaked the seeds are crunchy and find their way into granola, chips and more.

Chia seeds are either white or brown and virtually flavorless, but create interesting texture and offer a lot of nutritional benefits. A staple food of the Mayans and Aztecs, just one tablespoon provides 5 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, 6% of the recommended daily allowance of calcium and 4% iron. But it's a real powerhouse when it comes to omega fatty acids, providing 2282 mg of omega-3 and 752 mg of omega-6. Look for chia in health food stores. 

I tried chia in a variety of products and really enjoyed them. I've also had fun cooking and baking with them. Here are a few of my favorite products using chia:

Bonachia pasta from Al Dente Pasta Company uses chia in place of eggs. You would not know that there is chia in the product and like all of Al Dente's dried pasta, the chia spinach fettuccini has the wonderful texture of fresh homemade pasta when cooked. Whether you are avoiding eggs or not, this is a great product and much less expensive than buying fresh pasta.  I used it in a recipe I was working on recently and it turned out just great (I'll be sharing that recipe soon).

Mamma Chia makes fruit juice drinks with chia seeds that are plumped up and suspended in the liquid. They are refreshing, quenching your thirst while also taking the edge off when you're feeling hungry. They come in a wide variety of delicious flavors like raspberry passion, guava and blackberry hibiscus. If they were less expensive (about $3.99 a bottle) I would be inclined to buy them more frequently. 

Another chia product I really enjoyed trying at the Fancy Food Show was the Canadian cereal provocatively named "Holy Crap." I can say it definitely lives up to the name, it's a bit like eating creamy pudding for breakfast. Made with chia, hemp hearts and buckwheat groats plus some dried fruit, a little bit really fills you up. Because it doesn't have very good distribution yet, I created my own version which I will share tomorrow...

Here are some ways you can use chia:

* Sprinkle chia seeds on top yogurt or hot cereal

* Whip up some chocolate chia pudding

* Use chia like poppy seeds in lemon chia seed cake

* Add chia to chili

* Toss chia seeds in a stir fry instead of sesame seeds

* Blend chia seeds into blueberry jam

* Use chia to make vegan chocolate chip cookies