Everything You Need To Know About Chia Seeds
You may have seen them on Instagram, noticed them in your local supermarket, or read about them in a health-food magazine, but chia seeds are not a new superfood and have a rich history dating back as far as 3500 BC.What Are Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds are the teeny-tiny black-brown seeds of a desert plant whose scientific name is Salvia hispanica, or more commonly just chia. Salvia hispanica is a member of the mint family, but it is not grown for its leaves and instead is cultivated for its nutritious seeds.
Once mature, chia plants can grow up to 5ft 9 inches tall, with each of their long stems bearing thick green leaves and producing blue, tube-shaped flowers in the spring. During the flowering season, chia plants are an essential food source for pollinators such as bees and butterflies and encourage a wide range of important insects to visit their scented blue flowers. Once the flowering season is over, the chia plant loses its flowers and focuses its energy on producing tiny seed pods, each housing several chia seeds.
Where Do Chia Plants Grow?
Chia plants are native to Mexico and Guatemala and thrive in hot, dry climates. Although Mexico and Guatemala are still key chia-producing countries, the seeds are now cultivated in Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Northwestern Argentina, and the southwestern United States, with more countries taking up chia production as demand increases. Originally, chia plants were only able to be cultivated in hot desert-like climates; however, this is starting to change as new cultivars of Salvia hispanica emerge. These cultivars can tolerate cooler temperatures and will produce flowers and seeds in less than ideal conditions.
How Are Chia Seeds Grown And Harvested?
Chia plants still grow wild across many regions of Mexico and Guatemala but are now more intensely cultivated for their precious seeds. Chia farms often look a little like cornfields, with the chia plants planted in uniform rows to allow for easy movement between the crop. Chia plants are annuals, and once sewn will go from sprout to flowering plant in 100 and 180 days. After the flowering season is over, it takes just a few weeks for the chia plant to make its seed heads; which then dry in the summer sun before being harvested.
In days gone by, chia seeds were harvested by hand, but today, this job is made easier thanks to machinery. A commercial chia field can produce anywhere between 1000 lb and 2,100 lb of chia seeds per acre, depending on growing conditions, and so the use of machinery has dramatically sped up the harvesting process. Once the chia seeds are ready to harvest, special machines run along the chia plant rows, gently removing the plant’s seed heads so they can be taken for processing. At the chia processing plant, the chia seeds are passed through various sieves to remove their seed pod and clean them of dust, dirt, and other foreign contaminants like rocks and bugs.
Is There A Difference Between Black and White Chia Seeds?
The vast majority of chia seeds that are grown, harvested, and sold are black-brown, but you may have also come across white chia seeds. White chia seeds are often sold at a premium price which has led many consumers to believe that they are superior to ordinary black chia seeds. Unfortunately, this isn’t true, and white chia seeds are actually identical to black chia seeds in virtually every way apart from their colour. The strange white coloration of white chia seeds can be easily explained by genetics. White chia seeds are produced by chia plants with white rather than blue flowers. These plants display a recessive gene for white coloration. Because the white colour gene is recessive, it is often suppressed by the dominant blue colour gene and so is much rarer to find.
Are White Chia Seeds More Nutritious?
Some online retailers claim that white chia seeds are more nutritious than black chia seeds, but this simply isn’t the case. Analysis of both white and black chia seeds has found their nutritional composition to be almost identical, with only very marginal differences between the two. These differences are so slight that they could be caused by growing conditions or other growth factors rather than the colour of the seed.
Do White Chia Seeds Taste Different?
Chia seeds have minimal flavour as it is, and white chia seeds are no different. Both black and white chia seeds have a very mild taste, and most people cannot discern between them.
So Why Do People Buy White Chia Seeds?
If white chia seeds are nutritionally the same and taste the same as black chia seeds, then why do people pay more money for them? The answer is simply down to preference and aesthetics. Some people simply prefer the look of white chia seeds over black chia seeds, especially if they are trying to create a vibrant coloured chia pudding or wish to hide the chia seeds in baking or cooking.
How Good Are Chia Seeds Good For You?
Whether you choose to buy white or black chia seeds, one thing is for sure - you’re eating a highly nutritious seed that is exceptionally good for you. Here are just eight of the health benefits associated with eating chia seeds.
8 Health Benefits Of Eating Chia Seeds
Chia Seeds Are A Rich Source Of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are molecules that fight harmful free radicals in the body. If left to their own devices, free radicals can cause cells to mutate, leading to cancer. Antioxidant-rich foods, like chia seeds, have been proven to reduce the impact of free radicals on the body, slowing down signs of aging and reducing a person’s risk of developing cancer. Chia seeds contain two essential antioxidants, kaempferol, and quercetin, both of which have been proven to possess anticancer properties and display heart-protective effects.
Chia Seeds Are Filled With Fiber
Fiber is often overlooked but is essential for good gut health and a diverse microbiome. Recent studies have begun to highlight the importance of the gut to overall health, meaning that fiber-rich foods, like chia seeds, are coming into the limelight. Just a one-ounce serving (28g) of chia seeds contains a massive 11g of fiber, meaning that they are 40% fiber by weight, making them one of the world’s best fiber sources.
Chia Seeds Can Help You Lose Weight
Although chia seeds may not be a miracle weight-loss food, their nutritional composition makes them a beneficial food to consume if you are trying to lose weight. Packed with protein and boasting an impressive amount of fiber, just a small amount of chia seeds can help you feel full longer, reducing your hunger drive and overall calorie intake.
Chia Seeds Contain A Lot Of Calcium
Believe it or not, chia seeds are one of the best plant-based sources of calcium. A one-ounce serving provides 18% of the RDA for calcium, gram for gram, making chia seeds a better calcium source than most dairy products! If you’re dairy-free or vegan, then chia seeds are a great way to ensure your bones have the calcium they need.
Chia Seeds Can Help To Control Your Blood Sugar Levels
If you have diabetes, then chia seeds are a fantastic food to eat because they effectively improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar levels. The high-fiber content of chia seeds means that they are absorbed slowly by the gut, preventing a sugar-spike.
Chia Seeds Can Reduce A Person’s Risk Of Heart Disease
Like other nuts and seeds, chia seeds are a heart-healthy food and are packed with beneficial fatty acids. In fact, chia seeds are so good for your heart that they can actually help to lower the blood pressure of individuals with hypertension, ultimately reducing their risk of heart disease.
Chia Seeds Are High In Omega-3
When it comes to healthy fats, omega-3 is the one you want. Gram for gram, chia seeds are higher in omega-3 than salmon and are a brilliant omega-3 supplement for people on a plant-based diet.
Chia Seeds A Packed With Plant-Based Protein
Finally, we couldn’t forget to mention that chia seeds are an excellent protein source. Roughly 14% of a serving of chia seeds is made up of protein, which is very high for a plant-based protein source. For this reason, chia seeds are an easy way to pack extra protein into your diet and can be added to smoothies, cakes, and protein bars to increase their protein content.
Can Chia Seeds Help You To Lose Weight?
Although chia seeds provide dozens of health benefits, many people focus on their ability to help with weight loss. More than 1.9 billion people are overweight globally, so, unsurprisingly, the media tends to focus a lot on weight-loss-friendly foods. Unfortunately, not all of the foods pushed by the media do help people lose weight; however, chia seeds are one of the foods that can.
Why Are Chia Seeds Good For Weight Loss?
Although chia seeds may not ‘melt away’ belly fat like advertised in some magazines, they can help people to lose weight by making them feel full and helping them to eat in a calorie deficit.
Burning more calories than you consume is the only way to lose weight; therefore, individuals must eat in a calorie deficit. Unfortunately, eating in a calorie deficit can be very difficult because it often leaves individuals feeling hungry; this is where chia seeds come into their own. Chia seeds are packed with protein and full of indigestible dietary fiber, which means that just a small amount can help keep you feeling full for longer. What’s more, chia seeds can absorb up to 10X their weight in liquid, turning a small one-ounce serving of chia seeds into a hearty-looking snack with minimal calories. In addition to helping dieters to feel full and eat less, chia seeds are also rich in antioxidants and can help to stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce an individual's blood pressure. These are two common health issues found in overweight people.
Are Chia Seeds As Good For You As Flaxseed?
Although it’s clear that chia seeds are an extremely healthy food, they come up against some stiff competition from flaxseed which has sparked an online this or that battle between the two seeds.
What’s The Difference Between Flaxseed And Chia Seed
The primary difference between chia seeds and flaxseed is that they are entirely different seeds that come from entirely different plants. While chia seeds are the tiny black-brown seeds of the Salvia hispanica plant, flaxseeds are the slightly larger, flatter brown seeds of Linum usitatissimum. Looking a little closer at each seed, there are also some critical differences in their nutritional profiles, which we have highlighted below:
Chia Seed (28g)
30% of RDA
35% of RDA
11% of RDA
31% of RDA
30% of RDA
27% of RDA
27% of RDA
18% of RDA
22% of RDA
10% of RDA
3% of RDA
17% of RDA
18% of RDA
7% of RDA
12% of RDA
9% of RDA
7% of RDA
8% of RDA
7% of RDA
As you can see, both chia seeds and flaxseed have their strengths and weaknesses, but they’re not too dissimilar from one another. While chia seeds may be a better calcium source and are higher in fiber, flaxseed is a clear winner when it comes to omega-3’s and is also a better source of manganese and copper. In an ideal world, it would be best to add a small amount of both chia seed and flaxseed into your diet, but if you have to choose one or the other, then you may want to do so based on the nutrients that are most important to you and your taste preference.
How To Buy Good Quality Chia Seeds
Buying good quality chia seeds can be a bit hit or miss. Although chia seeds may all look the same, there are three significant differences between good quality and low-quality chia seeds.
There’s nothing worse than thinking you got a good deal on some cheap chia seeds and then opening the bag to find debris or bugs mixed in with your seeds. Chia seeds must undergo a series of cleaning processes before they are packaged for sale, but not all chia seeds are processed to the same standard. Cheaper chia seeds may not have undergone the same rigorous cleaning process as better quality chia seeds, leaving room for dirt, dust, rocks, and bugs to end up in the finished product.
Another critical thing to consider when buying chia seeds is whether they are organic or not. Organic chia seeds have been grown without the use of pesticides or chemicals, meaning that pollinators like bees and butterflies were not harmed during the flowering season, and the resulting chia seeds have not had a chance to absorb any toxins. Organic chia seeds can be a little more expensive than non-organic chia seeds but generally are of better quality.
Many people don’t realize that chia seeds can be mature or immature. Immature chia seeds are a consistent brown color rather than a speckled brown-black, are smaller in size, and have less nutritional value than mature seeds. These smaller, immature chia seeds will often fail quality control tests for high-quality chia and therefore end up being sold on more cheaply.
Is it Possible To Buy Affordable Quality Chia Seeds?
As chia seeds have become more popular, there’s more diversity in the market. This means that there’s now more competition, and chia seed prices have begun to fall. It’s therefore not uncommon to see very affordable, high-quality chia; you just need to be careful about who you buy from. Here are our tips to help you buy good quality inexpensive chia seeds.
Read Customer Reviews
When it comes to buying anything online, reviews are your best friend. If there are no reviews on the website, then it’s safer to give the product a miss. If there is a review section, then take a moment to browse what other customers have said. Generally, if there were any problems with the product, such as debris or pests in the bag, then this will have been highlighted, and you can take your business elsewhere.
Check To See If The Seeds Are Mature
It’s difficult to check the maturity of chia seeds online, but some suppliers will provide a sample. If you can’t get a sample ahead of placing an order, then once again, reviews are your best friend, and you may want to order a smaller amount first until you can check their quality. If you’re buying chia seeds in-store, then take a look at the seeds before you buy them and check that they are brown-black and not just plain brown.
Always Look For An Organic Certification
Finally, for the best quality chia seeds, always look for organic certification. Organic chia seeds tend to have been farmed to higher standards than non-organic seeds, and this shows in the end product.
How Should You Store Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds are a great store cupboard staple, but how do you store them? The good news is that chia seeds are one of those pantry items that rarely go bad, meaning that you can store them for quite a long time before encountering any problems. That being said, keeping your chia seeds correctly will extend their life even further and can also protect them from unwanted pests.
How Long Do Chia Seeds Last?
Chia seeds can last a long time, thanks to their protective and edible seed husk. For this reason, some people believe that whole chia seeds will never go off, but this isn’t entirely true. When stored in good conditions, whole chia seeds can easily last two years in the pantry, often even longer, and this can be more than doubled if you place them in the fridge or freezer. Once chia seeds have been ground into a meal, they are no longer protected by their seed husk and therefore only have a pantry life of two weeks.
The Best Way To Store Chia Seeds
Chia seeds will go bad more quickly if exposed to open air, direct sunlight, moisture, or high temperatures. For this reason, the best way to store your chia seeds is in an airtight container, away from the sun, in a cool and dry place. If you don’t plan to eat your chia seeds for a while, then a vacuum-sealed container can make them last even longer. If you can’t store your chia seeds in a cupboard away from the light, then it’s best to place them in an opaque container.
If you’re storing chia seeds for the long-haul, then freezing them is the ultimate preservation method. Before freezing your chia seeds, place them in an airtight bag or container and try to remove as much air as possible.
How To Tell If Your Chia Seeds Have Gone Bad
Although chia seeds rarely go bad, when they do, they are unpleasant to eat. Here are three signs that your chia seeds have gone bad.
Unfortunately, it’s not just humans who like to eat chia seeds. Pests such as meal moths will seek out chia seeds if they are not sealed correctly and will lay their eggs. Once hatched, the meal moth larvae feed on the chia seeds until they transform into moths, and the cycle starts again. It’s usually fairly obvious if meal moths have gotten into your chia seeds, keep an eye out for your seeds moving, grubs, moths, or strange debris.
If your chia seeds aren’t sealed or have been sealed with moisture inside the container, then they will probably go moldy. Mold comes in many shapes and sizes but generally looks like a white powder on your seeds. If your chia seeds have gone moldy, you will need to throw away the whole pack as the mold spores will contaminate the entire supply.
Finally, although it may take chia seeds a long time, they will eventually go rancid. Rancidification occurs when chia seeds are exposed to the open air and cause their fatty acids to oxidize. Rancid chia seeds have a nasty odor and will also taste bitter and unpleasant. If you think your chia seeds may have gone rancid, then the best way to check is to grind a small sample in a pestle and mortar and smell them.
6 Ways To Add Chia Seeds Into Your Daily Diet
The best way to stop your chia seeds from going off is to eat them! Thankfully, chia seeds are a super versatile ingredient, and so this isn’t difficult to do. Here are just six ways that you could start adding more chia seeds into your daily diet.
Bake With Them
Chia seeds are an inoffensive baking ingredient and can be used in virtually any baking recipe. With little flavor, they can easily be hidden in sweet or savory bakes, adding extra protein and nutrients without changing the flavor. If you’re baking with chia seeds, then remember that they absorb a lot of liquid, and so you may need to adjust your recipe to accommodate.
Use Them As A Salad Topper
Seeds make fantastic salad toppers, adding texture, flavor, and nutrients to your meal. While pumpkin and sunflower seeds may be popular seed topping choices, chia seeds are also a great seed to add to the mix.
Make Them Into An Egg Replacement
Did you know that chia seeds are often used as an egg replacement in vegan baking? That’s right, if you’re trying to go egg-less or have run out of eggs, then a tablespoon of chia seeds mixed with 2.5 tablespoons of water can create an egg-like binder.
Use Them On Your Breakfast
Chia seeds are great sprinkled onto oatmeal, yogurt, and even cereal. They add some much-needed texture and also provide a boost of nutrients to help you start your day. We like to keep a jar of our favorite seedy sprinkles close by to make it easier to add them to all of our favorite dishes.
Make Chia Pudding
If dry chia seeds don’t float your boat, then try making them into a chia pudding. Chia pudding fully utilizes the chia seed’s ability to absorb 10X its weight in liquid, turning a small dry seed into a voluminous gelatinous pudding. Another great thing about chia pudding is that it has little to no flavour, making it a great carrier for sweet dessert flavours like berries, chocolate, or vanilla. \
Drink Your Chia Seeds
Finally, if you’re really struggling to incorporate chia seeds into your food, then try adding them to your drinks instead. Chia seeds can help to thicken smoothies and also add important fibre, protein, and fats.
3 Simple And Delicious Chia Pudding Recipes
If all this talk of chia seeds has left you hungry, then get stuck into one of these three chia pudding recipes. The great thing about chia pudding is that it’s so versatile. We love these three flavours, but you can go wild, adding virtually any flavours you like and topping your puddings with all manner of delicious ingredients.
Chocolate Chia Pudding
You can’t go wrong with chocolate-flavoured pudding! This recipe uses cocoa powder to achieve a chocolatey flavour, but you could also use chocolate protein powder or make chocolate milk out of melted chocolate if you prefer.
- ½ a cup of organic chia seeds
- 1.5 cups of plant-milk of your choice (we like almond)
- 3 tbsp of agave nectar or maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon of vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- ¼ cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 squares of vegan dark chocolate
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
- Add your cocoa powder, agave nectar/maple syrup, salt, and vanilla to a small bowl and give them a gentle whisk to combine.
- Next, slowly add your plant milk a little at a time, continually whisking to prevent lumps.
- Give everything one last mix before covering and placing your pudding into the refrigerator for four hours.
- To help your chia puddings to set evenly, you may want to give them a gentle stir after the first 30 minutes.
- After four hours, your chia seeds should have absorbed your chocolate milk, and your pudding is ready to eat.
- For a little extra indulgence, finely grate some dark chocolate over the top.
Very Berry Chia Pudding
Fruity chia pudding is a brilliant way to eat some of your five a day while also getting a healthy hit of protein, antioxidants, and fiber. We’ve used blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries in this recipe, but you could substitute these out for whatever berries you like. In fact, why stop at berries! You could even make this recipe with mango or pineapple.
- ½ a cup of organic chia seeds
- 1.5 cups of plant-milk of your choice (we like almond)
- 3 tbsp of agave nectar or maple syrup (add more or less depending on the sweetness of your berries)
- ½ a cup of fresh or frozen strawberries
- ½ a cup of fresh or frozen blueberries
- ½ a cup of fresh or frozen raspberries
- ½ teaspoon of vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- Add your berries to a bowl. If using fresh berries, then gently squash them a little to release more of their flavor.
- Add your sweetener of choice and vanilla before pouring in your milk.
- To your berry-milk mixture, add in your chia seeds and stir to combine.
- Cover your chia pudding and place it in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 6 hours. This chia pudding needs a little longer for the flavors to develop.
- We recommend letting this chia pudding swell as one large pudding and then portioning it afterward to ensure an even distribution of berries and chia seeds in each serving.
- Serve cold and top with more fresh berries.
Carrot Cake Chia Pudding
For a healthier take on carrot cake, this chia pudding fits the bill, and it looks decadent too when topped with chopped walnuts, raisins, and lemon zest.
- ½ a cup of organic chia seeds
- 1.5 cups of plant-milk of your choice
- 3 tbsp of agave nectar or maple syrup
- 2 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- 1 large carrot
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
- A pinch of salt
- ¼ cup of raisins
- ¼ cup of chopped walnuts
- Zest of half a lemon
- Peel your carrot and take off the top. Set aside a small piece to grate for a garnish.
- Add the rest of your carrot to a blender with your plant milk, vanilla, sweetener, cinnamon, salt, and blend until the carrot has turned to a pulp.
- Portion your chia seeds into four ramekins or glasses and then top with your carrot cake milk.
- Give everything a good stir, and then cover your chia puddings and place them in the fridge for 4 hours.
- To help your chia pudding set evenly, you may want to stir it after the first 30 minutes.
- Once set and ready to eat, grate some extra carrot over the top and add raisins, chopped walnuts, and lemon zest to garnish.
Can You Eat Too Many Chia Seeds?
Once you discover the versatility of chia seeds, you may find yourself adding them to everything. Still, it’s important to remember that chia seeds are very high in fiber and so adding too many into your diet could leave you with some unpleasant side effects.
How Many Chia Seeds Should You Eat?
Although there’s no set serving size for chia seeds, it’s recommended that people start by only consuming one-ounce a day. This can be increased over time depending on how your body reacts to the excess fiber.
What Happens If You Eat Too Many Chia Seeds?
Eating too many chia seeds will usually only result in digestive discomfort. This is because chia seeds are 40% fibre. Like other fibre-rich foods, side-effects from eating too many chia seeds are usually bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
Other Side Effects Of Eating Too Many Chia Seeds
Most people who eat too many chia seeds only experience an upset stomach, but there are a few other side-effects to be aware of.
Dry Chia Seeds Can Cause Choking
You may have seen the story online about a man who ate spoonfuls of dry chia and then drank a glass of water and ended up in the emergency room. This is because the dry chia seeds he consumed swelled in his esophagus and caused a blockage. We don’t recommend eating spoonfuls of chia seeds dry; they’re much tastier when added to your meals or swollen into a chia pudding.
Chia Seeds Could Interact With Some Medications
Because chia seeds can help reduce blood pressure and stabilize blood sugar levels, they could enhance the efficiency of medications trying to do the same job. If you’re taking blood pressure or blood sugar medications, then it’s best to speak to a doctor before adding chia seed into your diet.
Some People Can Be Allergic To Chia Seeds
Chia seed allergies are very rare, but they do exist. If you’ve never eaten chia seeds before, then it’s best to start with a small amount and work your way up slowly. On your first time trying chia seeds, keep an eye out for any allergy symptoms such as itchy lips or swelling of your mouth and throat.
So there you have it! We hope you enjoyed learning about chia seeds and the benefits that they can bring to your diet. If you’re ready to try them for yourself, then check out our high-quality organic chia seeds.
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