We’ve had goji berries, wheatgrass, kale and green tea. It seems there is always a new superfood to whizz up in a juicer or sprinkle on your morning muesli. One of the latest foods to be labelled “super” by the media for its supposed health benefits is chia seeds. These tiny oval-shaped seeds, which are native to Mexico and Guatemala, can be black, brown, grey or white. They’re not much to look at, but they’re crammed with omega-3 fatty acids (more than salmon) and fibre. They are also big on potassium, calcium and antioxidants and small on calories. Plus they are gluten-free. As with many superfoods the scientific evidence is scarce and mixed but they are thought to stabilise blood sugar and lower cholesterol. And they are amazing energy boosters, too.
The Aztecs ground them into flour, pressed them for oil and drank them mixed with water. (Aztec warriors used them for energy in battle and messengers ate them for stamina while running across the empire.) 5000 years later chia-seed cuisine is a bit more adventurous. A straight spoonful is bland, with a hint of nuttiness, but this means these mini nutrient-miracles are seriously versatile, working in both sweet and savoury dishes. They can be used in baking bread or cakes, to thicken sauces, as a replacement for eggs (when mixed with water they gain a gel coating) or added to salads, smoothies and agua frescas. Health-food shops sell seeds and oil as supplements and they are even popping up in pre-packaged energy bars in America and Australia. In the UK the Food Standards Agency categorises chia seeds as a ‘novel food’ because they don’t have a history of consumption in the European Union. Since 2007 they could be bought and sold for use in bread products with a recommended guideline of up to 5% of the total ingredients. But in January this year they relaxed the rules so these super seeds are now allowed to be sold in baked products, breakfast cereals and fruit, nut and seed mixes too. If you like the sound of chia seeds then here are some recipe ideas to try at home. I’ll be baking chia seed banana bread and will post the results soon!