Chia seeds are tiny little capsules of goodness that are definitely worth including in our daily diets. They aren’t likely to bring a massive flavor boost to the foods we eat, but then again, eating isn’t just about things that taste good. We, of course, as a first and foremost, are after sound nutrition, stuff to fuel and bolster our bodies. But, it isn’t nutrition alone that we want. We also look to experience different textures and clever combinations in our food, and it’s in these arenas where chia seeds really work there magic.

For a little more convincing, just take a quick look at the health benefits provided by chia seeds. They are dense with fiber and protein, and perhaps even more importantly, they have a massively favorable ratio of omega-3 over omega-6 fatty acids. The omega-3 factor is reason enough really, but chia seeds also deliver one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants of any food. They have the very type of nutritional prowess that makes superfoods super.

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With the healthful vibes out there, it’s only a matter of how to use chia seeds, how to make the most of something so small and discrete. If the health isn’t reason enough, what more can we do to justify cluing in on the power of chia. Sure, it’s easy enough to sprinkle them on oatmeal or a salad, but isn’t there more to it?

Can’t chia do more than that? How exactly can we use them?

A Thickener in … Anything

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Chia seeds, while teeny, are amazingly absorbent, to the tune of being able to absorb ten times their weight in water. What this means from a culinary angle is that they are tremendous thickening agents. Whereas many chefs have become accustomed to using cornstarch to make thicker sauces, ground chia seeds — just teaspoon or two at a time — can stiffen watery gravies or soups and bless them with some substantial nutrients while doing so, or they can firm up smoothies and other drinks (holiday “egg” nogs). In other words, ditch those other thickeners and use one that does more.

A Gluten-free Binder

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Harping on the same ability to capture water, chai seeds can work as a good binder in place of breadcrumbs or flour in dishes like “meat” balls or lentil loaf. Normally, binders don’t add positive nutrition to dishes (oats being another exception), but with chia seeds, they provide the necessary stickiness to bind our burgers while giving us — once again — even more nutritious food. Plus, they are gluten-free, so for those of us trying to avoid that sort of thing, problem solved and burgers served.

An Egg Substitute in Baking

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One of the first concerns of many potential or newbie vegans is how exactly baking will go. We may be into our health, but that doesn’t mean having the occasional treat isn’t equally as important. Chia seeds and a little water create a perfect substitute for those recipes calling for eggs (this can also include non-baked things like pan-fried veggie cakes). Simply grind the seeds and combine them with about three times the water; essentially one tablespoon of ground seeds and three tablespoons of water equal one egg. They can also be used in no-bake energy bars and bites since the aid as a natural binder like eggs (but with a nice cruelty-free crunch!)

An Animal-Friendly Gelatin or Less Processed Gum

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Lots of delicious treats — pudding, jellies and so on — have adopted unhealthy policies like excessive sugar, and some of them have even taken to using gelatin as a binding and thickening agent. Well, that’s not what a healthy lifestyle is about. We can make these things simply enough ourselves, and we can do so with quality ingredients that aid our bodies rather than destroying them. Chia seeds do the work of gelatin without all the animals bones and hooves, and it does the work of gums (like xanthan gum) without the excess processing.

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A DIY Salad Sprout

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The news is out and it’s often about sprouts. They are good for us, full of flavor and spiked with nutritional benefits. Really, it’s just a simple process that can be done right on the kitchen counter. Every twelve hours rinse the seeds with water, drain them, and set them aside. Within a couple of days, chia sprouts will pop up. These sprouts were the very ones that created the beloved chia pets of the 80’s, only they are much more than a kooky decoration. Those sprouts are edible and delicious. What’s more, for the really keen gardener, the same sprouts can be grown into full-grown flowers, which can then be harvested for homegrown chia seeds and a whole new crop of sprouts. That’s sustainability.

It’s that simple, and it’s really worthwhile. Very few foods provide us with the right balance of omega-3 to omega-6, and chia seeds are one of the best at it. They are better than fish oil. They are better than flaxseeds. They are awesome! We just have to use them. 

Lead Image Source: Date Cherry Ginger Orange Coconut Bars With Cacao and Chia

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