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What are Chia Seeds?

Niki Acker
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Chia seeds are harvested from the Salvia hispanica plant, a type of sage in the mint family. The seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids and have versatile uses in the kitchen. They were a staple of the ancient Aztec diet, and are grown commercially throughout Latin and South America. Cooks and health food aficionados around the world praise the seeds for their high concentration of vitamins and minerals, and many recommend eating them regularly for weight loss and diet-related purposes.

Popularity Both Ancient and Modern

Indigenous people in Latin and South America have grown and harvested the chia plant for centuries. According to popular lore, the seed is what gave many heroes their strength and bravery. Warriors and athletes from long ago are believed to have carried small packets of the seeds with them on their conquests, and many are said to have lived on its nutrients alone for weeks at a time.

While modern people rarely take such a minimalist approach, the seeds remain popular as a form of nutrition and energy. They are touted by many in the health food community as a “superfood” on account of the many vitamins and minerals they contain, as well as their perceived health benefits. The seeds can be eaten raw or mixed with other liquids or foods, and will usually take on the flavor of whatever surrounds them.

Nutritional Profile

Chia seeds are very high in protein, calcium, and iron — three elements all humans need for optimal body and brain functions. Omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, and high concentrations of disease-fighting antioxidants round out the nutritive profile. Chia seeds contain almost no calories, and are completely fat-free. They are also high in fiber, which often helps people feel full and sated; that they also readily absorb water and expand in the stomach only amplifies this effect.

Health experts often teach that the seeds help the body retain fluids and electrolytes by forming a dense gel in the stomach that can slow the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar. The seeds are also believed to help build muscle and other tissue, which makes them useful to athletes and others concerned with fitness and strength training.

Ways to Eat and Prepare

One of the simplest ways to enjoy chia seeds is to eat them raw, either on their own or mixed in with cereal, salads, or pasta dishes. They have a slight crunch to them, but are easy to chew and carry a slightly nutty flavor. Some cooks will roast or toast the seeds to make their taste more pronounced. When ground into flour, the seeds can be used to augment a number of different baked goods.

Soaking the seeds in water or other liquids will cause them to expand to nearly 10 times their original size. Chia fresca, a popular dish throughout Latin America, is made by briefly immersing the seeds in juice — often lemon or lime — then sweetening with sugar or agave syrup. A dish known as “chia jelly” is made in a similar fashion, often by soaking the seeds overnight in juice or water. When left to soak for hours on end, the seeds will ultimately break down, leaving a jelly-like substance that can be eaten on its own or used to augment smoothies, hot cereals, and bread batters, among other things.

Sprouts

When left in a cool, moist environment, chia seeds will eventually sprout. These sprouts are also edible, and are popular additions to salads, sandwiches, and as a garnish to a number of noodle and soup dishes. The sprouts may be familiar to some as the green “fur” of the so-called “Chia Pet,” a collectible animal-shaped clay planter popular throughout much of North America.

Weight Loss and Diet Uses

A number of diet companies promote chia seeds as something of a weight loss “miracle,” often with promises that it is the key to a svelte, trim figure. Most of these claims have to do more with the seed’s water retention properties than any inherent ability to cause the body to shed weight. People who regularly eat chia seeds, or who blend the seeds in with their regular foods, often feel full faster — and often eat less as a result. In most cases, it is reduced calories overall that leads to weight loss. Seeds can help, but are rarely a cause in and of themselves.

Risks and Concerns

Consuming chia seeds and sprouts is usually considered safe, though consumers are typically advised to take claims of healing or significant nutritional benefit with a bit of skepticism. While eating the seeds with some regularity has been shown to help promote overall health, there is little evidence that the seeds alone can cure or treat any sort of medical condition. Relying on a perceived “healing power” without first seeking a qualified medical opinion can be dangerous.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a DelightedCooking editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By anon941276 — On Mar 22, 2014

Are Chia seeds and tukhmalanga the same things? Please clarify. I need this information urgently.

By anon333279 — On May 04, 2013

What do we call chia seeds in urdu?

By anon194992 — On Jul 10, 2011

where cn I buy good quality chia seeds in Singapore?

By anon192856 — On Jul 02, 2011

where can I buy Chia seeds in Malaysia?

By anon164753 — On Apr 02, 2011

Do these actually work as a weight loss medication?

By anon126100 — On Nov 11, 2010

About chia seeds being ground into pinole. This is incorrect. Pinole is made from corn, not chia. The Tarahumara eat both pinole and chia, which probably caused the confusion.

By anon110835 — On Sep 13, 2010

where can I find recipes for chia seeds?

By anon107957 — On Sep 01, 2010

what do chia seeds look like?

By Renee Bezuidenhout — On Aug 26, 2010

I live in south africa, and I was wondering if any body could tell me were I could find or get Chia seeds. Thanks.

By anon90109 — On Jun 14, 2010

Chia seeds are gluten free and have a whole host of other benefits.

By anon86612 — On May 26, 2010

In order to get the nutritional benefits of chia, does one have to chew them well, or can they be swallowed whole?

By anon82823 — On May 07, 2010

Yes Chia seeds are gluten free.

By anon76601 — On Apr 11, 2010

I tried my first chia pudding this morning for breakfast. Chia seeds, almond milk, apples and cinnamon. It was very good and tasted like oatmeal. Love it!

By anon72801 — On Mar 24, 2010

Are there any calories in Chia seeds and if so how many?

By anon69029 — On Mar 05, 2010

Are Chia seeds gluten free?

By anon61307 — On Jan 19, 2010

I want to buy organic chia seeds in bulk. Does anyone have any ideas as to who might produce it.

Cheers.

By anon47478 — On Oct 05, 2009

Does anyone know if it's okay to eat the chia seeds while nursing?

By itilis — On Aug 16, 2009

Who should not use Chia Seed?

By anon32926 — On May 29, 2009

did you know that the chia seed is a staple, along with corn, in the diet of the Tarahumara, the ancient Mexican tribe that still sparsely exists today? The Tarahumara are notorious for having amazing endurance and have the capability of running hundreds of miles without getting tired. Assuming that the chia seed assists with these amazing feats but also consider that even though the Tarahumara are amazing distance runners, they routinely get drunk on homemade corn beer and also smoke routinely as well...they must know something we don't.

By anon28848 — On Mar 23, 2009

Well, being that my father grows 100% organic Salba and Chia in Costa Rica, you can absolutely get organic seeds.

By mcarthj — On Mar 21, 2009

Is there, or is there not "organic" chia seeds? What is the difference between NSRI chai seeds and "organic" chai seeds?

By anon10355 — On Mar 25, 2008

anon3891: You are misinformed, there is no such thing as organic chia seeds. You have fallen victim to false advertising.

By anon6807 — On Jan 09, 2008

Chia gel smoothies are healthy and tasty. But try making a 'pudding' with ground chia seeds (use a coffee or nut grinder), almond butter, shredded coconut, rice milk, raisins, and/or fresh fruits. Add your own favorite ingredients.

Also, I definitely agree organic is better. I've tried different brands and colors of chia seeds. Seed color doesn't matter in terms of health benefts, i.e., white chia seeds (like Salba) and black seeds are equally healthy. But organic chia tastes way better to me. Plus, eating organic chia seeds supports both sustainable agriculture and the health of our planet.

By anon3891 — On Sep 22, 2007

What great instructions for making chia gel. I've been making the gel for a while. I have gotten excellent results, including increased energy and reduced cravings for foods (esp. carbs).

I found a worthy recipe for making a delicious chia gel smoothie. This takes the chia gel concept to the next level.

They also recommend and sell organic chia seeds, which I find taste better than conventional seeds. You can also find organic chia seeds at your local health food store.

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a DelightedCooking editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range...
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