Hey, does anyone remember chia pets, those weird little clay animal figurines that grew fur made out of plants? I wanted one so badly as a kid, but my parents agreed that they didn’t really go with the décor. These days I have a serious love for chia, but instead of enjoying them as a sprout-covered squirrel on my windowsill, I eat the seeds, taking full advantage of the super food that gave this 1980’s terracotta tchotchke its power.
What are Chia seeds?
Aside from their slightly oblong shape, chia seeds look a lot like poppy seeds, being gray or black in colour, and very, very tiny. Unlike poppy seeds however, the inconspicuous chia is a veritable powerhouse of nutrition and a very versatile food to boot. In pre-Columbian times they were a main component of the Aztec and Mayan diets and were the basic survival ration of Aztec warriors. I’ve read that one tablespoon was believed to sustain an individual for 24 hours. The Aztecs also used chia medicinally to stimulate saliva flow and to relieve joint pain and sore skin.
In more recent years, chia has undergone a sort of renaissance with the increasing interest in health foods throughout North America and Western Europe. In Canada, chia seeds are often sold under the brand name “Salba”. Chia and Salba are essentially the same thing, only Salba is a white seed strain of the same plant.
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, chia is very rich in omega-3 fatty acids, even more so than flax seeds! And it has another advantage over flax: chia is so rich in antioxidants that the seeds don’t deteriorate and can be stored for long periods without becoming rancid. And, unlike flax, they do not have to be ground to make their nutrients available to the body. Chia seeds also provide complete protein (perfect for vegetarians!) fiber, as well as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, molybdenum, niacin, and zinc. See? They are like, a total miracle food!
Bringing it all together
The last awesome aspect of this super seed definitely worth mentioning is its binding qualities. By this I mean that when chia comes into contact with liquids it forms a gel, which not only makes a fabulous egg replacer in baked goods, but also it also acts as a binder in your digestive system, making your poop totally fabulous! I even considered naming the title of this post “Fabulous Bowel Movement Muffins”, but my gut told me not to. Ahem. Sorry.
Why should you care about this? Well, if you have diarrhea, constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome, chia gel actually helps to regulate symptoms by coating the digestive tract with a mucilaginous goo that soothes irritations, and improves digestion by bulking up stool in a calm and gentle fashion. After munching a few of these muffins, just tell me if you’re not experiencing some very satisfying trips to the John.
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For this recipe I used rhubarb because it’s about the only seasonal fruit we’ve got going on up here in Denmark. If you live somewhere where there is a wider variety of fresh fruit (basically anywhere but here – sorry I’m totally bitter), by all means use what you’re growing in your backyard or what’s available at your local farmer’s market instead.
And just so you know, these muffins are sugar-free so they are not cupcakes in disguise. Don’t expect some super-sweet, dessert-like bomb to come out of your oven! These are healthy, real, whole-food muffins that you will not find at Starbucks (that’s a good thing).
Chia Rhubarb Apricot Muffins
• 1 ½ cups spelt flour
• ½ cup rolled oats
• 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
• 1/2 tsp. baking soda
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 3 Tbsp. chia seeds + ¼ cup water
• ¼ cup maple syrup
• 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
• 1/2 cup orange juice
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1 1/4 cup finely chopped rhubarb
• 1/3 cup chopped dried apricots (or raisins, dates, cranberries, cherries, etc.)
• optional nuts, seeds, oats for topping (your choice – walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds etc.)
1. Combine chia seeds and water in a glass and set aside for at least 15 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a muffin pan with liners.
3. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt until combined.
4. In another bowl, add the chia seed gel, olive oil, maple syrup, orange juice and vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth by hand. Add to the flour mixture and blend just until moistened but lumpy. Stir in the rhubarb and apricots.
5. Spoon the batter into 12 muffin cups, filling each cup about 2/3 full. Sprinkle the topping of your choice onto each muffin and bake until springy to the touch, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer the muffins to a wire rack to cool completely.
What else can I do with Chia?
Hold on everybody! The chia train doesn’t stop there! You can add these seeds to just about anything you can eat. Sprinkle them on your morning cereal, yogurt, lunchtime salads, blend them up in smoothies, add them to soups, stews – they work with just about everything. One tablespoon a day is all you need to start experiencing the array of the healthy benefits chia has to offer. And to replace one egg in baking, combine one tablespoon of chia with three tablespoons of water.