Vegan Cooking 101: How to Cook with Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are quite possibly the mightiest ingredient in vegan cooking. Packed with antioxidants, protein and calcium, these tiny seeds are a nutritional powerhouse. A popular vegan substitute for eggs and gelatin, chia seeds are packed with plenty of health benefits.
What Are Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds are produced by the Salvia Hispanica plant. A member of the mint family, the Salvia Hispanica is native to southwestern and central Mexico. Farming of the Salvia Hispanica requires little in the way of irrigation, making it a sustainable crop so long as pesticides are not used in its production (be sure to check the label). The seeds, which can be black, white or some combination thereof, are quite small — measuring about 1 millimeter in diameter.
Chia Seeds Then..And…Now
If you are a member of Gen X, your familiarity with chia seeds might be limited to the Chia Pet. This (somewhat inexplicably) popular gift of the early 1980s had to have puzzled many of its recipients, perhaps calling into question whether they were even liked by the gift giver. When smothered with damp seeds though, the Chia Pet (a clay planter in the shape of a small animal) would produce a thick coat of chia sprouts – otherwise known as the planter’s “fur.” A novelty for sure… But, wait! Maybe the Chia Pet was a gift given to the most-loved recipients…(keep reading!).
More recently, these seeds have shed their gimmicky past and have taken on a new role: superfood. Superfoods, true to their moniker, have more nutritional value relative to their size than other foods. Between their superfood status and their ability to change consistency (just add water – more on that below), chia seeds have taken their seat at the head of the vegan cooking table.
Are They Good for You?
You bet! In fact, “chia” means strength in ancient Mayan. Chia seeds are high in antioxidants and contain high-quality protein – a noteworthy characteristic for the vegan eater. They are also a good source of fiber which makes them especially good at absorbing water. It’s this function that makes them particularly helpful in vegan cooking. Because of their high fiber content, they are able to absorb 10-12 times their weight in water. When combined with a liquid, chia seeds take on a gelatinous consistency that makes them a great vegan substitute for ingredients like eggs and gelatin.
See how I use chia seeds in these popular vegan recipes:
- Fresh Peach Chia Seed Jam
- Fresh Peach Galette*
- Banana Bread Muffin Tops*
As indicated above, sprouting the seeds also reaps nutritional benefits. All you have to do is give that Chia Pet a good shave! Seriously though, I like to keep a variety of microgreens handy for throwing on top of salads or in sandwiches. I almost always have beet, broccoli and radish microgreens on hand. Chia seeds are among the easiest of microgreens to grow. They don’t require any pre-soaking and can be grown on a simple medium, such as a damp paper towel. Within 5-6 days you’ll have a small batch of mini-micros (yes, they are very small) to add color, flavor and nutrition to your vegan fare.
Don’t worry though if you’re not much into cooking. There are still a lot of ways to use these seeds with minimal fuss. Sprinkle a teaspoon of them on top of yogurt, into smoothies or over your bowl of oatmeal in the morning. They are mild in flavor, so they’ll be there for nutritional benefit only.
*These recipes can be found in my upcoming cookbook!
How to Buy and Store Chia Seeds
You can find chia seeds in the bulk food section of most grocery stores. They come in both black and white varieties which are similar in nutritional value and behave the same way in vegan cooking. I tend to use white seeds in my jams and black seeds for everything else, but that’s merely an aesthetic preference.
Chia seeds will last a long time if stored in a cool, dark place. I typically keep mine in an airtight container in my pantry or in the refrigerator. If kept properly, they will stay fresh for up to two years. Not bad for an ingredient you use in small amount, right?
About Herbivore’s Kitchen
Herbivore’s Kitchen is a blog run by me, a plant-based home chef and aspiring food photographer. I switched my and my family’s diet to a plant-based diet after learning about the health benefits of going vegan. Making this change has prompted a variety of food and holistic-lifestyle related questions that I explore through this blog. I talk about how to pick and prepare the most nutritious foods, to how to reduce waste at home, to how to live a more sustainable lifestyle while on the road.