Chia is a tiny seed that packs a big nutritional punch. It is one of the foods that is deserving of its superfood status, given its nutrient density. Chia seeds are an excellent source of healthy fats, fibre, calcium and protein. Their origin, like quinoa, is believed to be Central America, where it was a staple food of the ancient Mayans and Aztecs. The word “chia” originates from the Nahuatl word for “oily”.
It is said that the warriors from these regions carried chia seeds in a small pouch tucked at their waists and it helped serve as a food source when they were travelling long distances.
Among their other virtues, chia seeds have a hydrophilic property, so they can absorb and retain water up to 30 times their weight. So 1g of chia seeds can absorb up to 30g of water or any other liquid. This makes chia seeds a very filling food, promoting satiety. It also makes chia a natural and healthy way to make jellies and jams, providing a thickness to jams and smoothies and jelly-like consistency to puddings.
Jams made with the addition of chia seeds is a genius idea for three reasons. Chia seeds make the perfect substitute for pectin, which is normally used to thicken jams. You can cut out on most of the sugar in these jams, for the chia seeds provide volume and thicken the jam consistency. Traditional jam making takes hours of stirring the pot, waiting for the natural pectin in the fruit to thicken the mixture, while chia seed jam gets ready in 10 minutes.
Store-bought jam has a very low fruit percentage, almost all of it being sugar. Home-made chia seed jam can be prepared full of the goodness of fruits, with almost no sugar. Think of it as a highly nutritious real fruit spread and not a sugar overload at breakfast.
Cook down two cups of fresh or frozen fruit, such as berries, chopped pineapples, kiwis or oranges, until nearly broken down. Add two tablespoons of chia seeds along with the juice of half a lemon, plus a sweetener, if you like, such as sugar, stevia, maple syrup or honey. Allow the jam to cool and thicken for 15 minutes. Transfer to a clean glass jar and refrigerate. Use within one week.
Earlier this year, #internalshower went viral on TikTok, with hundreds of millions of views and several people trying out this, wait for it, constipation remedy. The remedy, promoted by the wellness influencer and chiropractor named Daryl Gioffre, required people to mix two tablespoons of chia seeds in a glass of water along with a squeeze of lemon juice, let it sit for five minutes and drink it on an empty stomach first thing in the morning.
Nutritionally speaking, this remedy cannot do any harm, for it’s just chia seeds soaked in lemon water. But a crucial point to note is that you should never swallow chia seeds raw.
There is a reason why chia seeds are always soaked in a liquid for some time before eating. In 2017, a gastrointestinal doctor in North Carolina, US, reported a case where a man had to spend many hours in the emergency room after chia seeds, which he had eaten dry before drinking water, blocked his oesophagus. When eaten dry or followed by a glass of water, the seeds absorb water inside the system, making for a sort of mass that can lead to blockage in the oesophagus or anywhere else in the digestive system.
While chia seeds are best known for puddings, here are two interesting breakfast recipes you can make using this superfood.
Instant chia seed paniyaram
2 tbsp chia seeds
Half cup yogurt
Quarter cup rice flour
Quarter cup ragi flour
Quarter cup jackfruit flour*
1 tsp green chilli paste (or 2 sliced chillies)
1 sprig curry leaves
8-10 black peppercorns, crushed
1 tsp salt
Half tsp baking soda
Coconut oil to cook the paniyarams
In a cup, combine the chia seeds and yogurt. Keep aside for 15-20 minutes. In another bowl, combine the flours, chilli paste, curry leaves, peppercorns, salt and baking soda. Add the chia yogurt to this mixture and stir to combine. Thin with water or buttermilk to get a thick but pourable dosa batter consistency.
Heat a paniyaram pan and brush the cavities of the pan with coconut oil. When the pan is hot, pour 1-2 tbsp of batter in each cavity and cook on a low-medium flame for two-three minutes. Flip it over with a chopstick or fork and cook the other side similarly, drizzling a few drops of oil around each paniyaram. Once both sides are crisp and golden brown and the inside is cooked, remove and serve hot.
*Jackfruit flour is high in protein. You can use gram flour as a substitute.
**If you do not have a paniyaram pan, make small-sized uthapams using the batter.
Oat Chia Breakfast cake
2 tbsp chia seeds
Half cup milk
1 cup rolled oats
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large ripe bananas
Quarter cup fruit or veg purée (apple, pumpkin or carrot)
2 tbsp honey or maple syrup or liquid jaggery
1 tsp coconut oil
Soak the chia seeds in milk and keep aside for 15-20 minutes. Preheat the oven at 180 degrees Celsius.
In a blender jar, combine the oats, baking powder, peanut butter, cinnamon, bananas, egg, pumpkin purée (or any other fruit or vegetable purée) and honey along with the soaked chia seed mix. Blend to a smooth purée.
Grease a 4- to 6-inch size baking dish and brush with coconut oil. Scrape the prepared batter into the greased baking dish. Bake in the preheated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 25 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove. Cut into two-three portions and serve hot.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). @saffrontrail on Twitter and Instagram.