Chia seeds have been cultivated and consumed for millennia in Central America. They have only recently become trendy in the U.S. with many recognizing this ingredient’s tremendous nutritional value. Like most ingredients, chia seeds require you to use them properly to get the greatest benefits. Let’s review some of the most important dos and don’ts when cooking with chia seeds.
Do soak your chia seeds before using them to maximize their health benefits.
Chia seeds contain a lot of soluble fiber and get much of their reputation as a superfood from the amount of it that they provide. Soluble fiber is extremely important for gut health as well as for helping to prevent heart disease and diabetes. When you soak chia seeds, you will see that they swell up into mucilaginous balls as they absorb water. It is this property that makes many common chia seed applications such as chia pudding possible. If you fail to soak chia seeds, they will still be edible but will not be as easy to digest and will not be useful for thickening liquids or for use as an egg substitute.
Do use chia seeds for the crunch.
Soaked chia seeds have a controversial characteristic in that they are rich in mucilage. It is the same characteristic that makes okra beloved or hated by many who try it. The clear soluble fiber is unpleasant for some people. If the slippery consistency of chia gel is a problem for you, consider using the seeds without soaking them. When raw, the seeds are similar in size and texture to poppy seeds. Topping baked goods like muffins and rolls with chia seeds is thus an effective way to use them.
Do grind your chia seeds to broaden the range of applications.
Chia flour or chia meal are terms for ground chia seeds. All that you need to grind them is a good blender, spice mill or food processor. Simply place the seeds into your blender, spice mill or food processor and pulse until the seeds are reduced to a fine powder. Chia flour possesses most of the benefits of whole chia seeds in that you can use it as an egg substitute and binder, but it has a couple not found in the whole seeds: it can be used as breading and to make gluten-free doughs. Chia flour makes a great breading for fried chicken and other similarly prepared foods in addition to being an effective wheat flour alternative to those seeking to avoid gluten.
Do store chia seeds properly.
Chia seeds last longer than other similar foods like flax seeds, for example. Both whole and ground chia seeds can have a shelf life of years under the right conditions. Ground or whole chia seeds should be stored in an airtight container, away from light and in a location with a temperature that is both stable and cool. Storing them in the refrigerator is a good option. Freezing your chia seeds can extend their shelf life to four years or longer; chia flour can last up to two years in the freezer.
Don’t try to gel chia in acidic liquids.
Chia seeds will not gel in an extremely acidic liquid. They will not swell up if you add them to lemon juice, lime juice or vinegar. One way to get the nutritional benefits in a dish that requires liquids is to gel the chia seeds in water first and then add them to your tart liquids.