Cha-Cha-Cha-Chia! We've heard it all before, the daytime TV slogan of the ubiquitous Chia Pet and other Chia-related products of Joseph Enterprises (also the maker of The Clapper, "Clap on! Clap Off!). What I didn't realize until last year was that chia is the name of the grain that sprouts on your Pet/Shrek/Obama/Homer/or Scooby Doo.
The little black seeds we all made fun of as children are now being touted as "Aztek Superfood" and being sold at Whole Foods and the like. Its health benefits have been brought to light by both Oprah and Dr. Oz. 2010 brought record setting global chia harvests and 2011 will likely be even bigger.
Yes folks, chia is the new flaxseed.
I first had chia at the Granville Market in Vancouver as "the world's most amazing breakfast cereal," - Holy Crap. Yes, that's the name of the brand, Holy Crap. They mixed it with hemp milk and it was great; the tiny seeds remind my of poppy seeds but when wet they form a gelatinous bubble around them, much like a tomato seed has.
I've never had a Chia Pet but the Pet-making process is the same as eating it; you mix the seeds with liquid and give them a few minutes to gel. Instead of spreading them on your Spongebob Squarepants; however, you eat them. This gel is formed by soluble fibers, called mucilages, and helps slow the breakdown of the carbs during digestion.
According to The Chia Book, The University of Arizona Press, “Chia has more Omega 3 than fish oil, flaxseed and marine algae. It has more protein, lipids, energy and fiber - but fewer carbs - than rice, barley, oats, wheat or corn... Chia is an excellent source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc and copper.”
The chia plant is indigenous to Central America and Mexico and is used to make the popular drink chia fresca and is often mixed with ground toasted maize kernels to make pinole. Because of it's high protien and of its ability to absorb 10 times its weight in water, it was a staple for indigenous people to take on long journeys.
In his book “Born to Run,” author Chistopher McDougall outlines how the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico routinly runs 50-100 miles at a time after drinking their chia fresca, made with water, chia, honey, and lemon juice.
The long distance running connection piques little interest to me to me because I don't run, I'm top-heavy and wouldn't even run to catch a bus - I do; however, often make a shake of sorts for breakfast anyways so I got some chia to check it out.
I tried mixing mine with almond milk, coconut milk, cow's milk, and sometimes simply water. It never got to a consistency where I would enjoy eating it with a spoon; just too loose and watery. They have very little taste anyway. I ended up mixing 1-2 tablespoons with about 10 ounces of liquid, stirring, waiting and pounding it.
I didn't notice an outpouring of Aztek energy pumping through me, but I'm usually 3 cups of coffee deep when I leave the house anyway. It produced a level of satiety that was similar to my normal breakfast concoction so I didn't see much of a benefit.
There was the novelty of the chia gel and I have read several recipes that use the gel to substitute for fats while baking. They do this because the gel is so hydrophilic that it holds onto the water in the oven and keeps the baked goods moist.
I'll keep experimenting with chia and since it is so hot right now, I suggest everyone goes and grabs a bag at their local health food store to check it out too. Some people report that they can't stand the gel because it is too mucus-like, other (whack-jobs, likely) report chia addictions. But then again, there's that lady who likes to eat Comet.