What are chia seeds?

Chia seeds are small oval seeds with a diameter of around 1mm. They are mottled grey, black, brown and white in colour. They are hydrophilic in nature, which means they absorb around 12 times their weight when soaked in water and develop a gel-like coating.

The seeds come from the pods of the chia herb (Salvia hispanica), which is native to Mexico and Guatemala. The plant grows to around 2m in height and has purple, or occasionally white, flowers.

Chia is grown commercially in Mexico, South America and Australia. Generally, it is planted in May or June and harvested in October. This can vary though, depending on the altitude and growing conditions. Chia seeds are mechanically harvested before being dried and screened to remove foreign materials.

Despite their tiny size, chia seeds are one of the most nutrient-rich foods on the planet. They are full of protein, fibre, omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrients.

Health benefits

Chia seeds are packed with antioxidants that protect their own fats from going rancid. This means they also help mop up damaging free radicals in the body, which can contribute to ageing and diseases like cancer.

Being so rich in fibre and having the ability to absorb so much water means that chia seeds expand in the stomach making you feel fuller for longer. Fibre is also important in promoting the growth of ‘good’ bacteria in the gut.

Chia seeds are rich sources of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and protein, which are all essential for healthy bones. In fact, they contain around five times as much calcium as cows’ milk and so they’re ideal for a dairy-free diet. With around 14% protein and essential amino acids, they are also an excellent addition to the diet of those who don’t eat meat.

And did you know that chia seeds contain more omega-3 fatty acids gramme for gramme than salmon? However, unfortunately, us humans are not as good as we could be at converting the alpha linoleic acid contained in chia seeds into the more essential active forms we can use.

Recipes

As these little seeds absorb several times their own weight in liquid, they can be soaked in water or milk overnight to create a tapioca-like dish. Just add some spices, fruit and honey or maple syrup for a healthy breakfast.

Use as a topping sprinkled on yoghurt, porridge or breakfast cereal to add a little crunch. Add them to pancake mix, muffins, scones, bread or cakes. Try making a delicious spread or add to fruity jams. Just add them to your fruit, sweeten with honey or maple syrup and stir over a low heat until the mixture thickens.

Energy ball recipes including chia seeds: