Story of an ingredient: chia seed

July 3, 2019 6:36 am Published by Leave your thoughts

We love all the ingredients we sell at Naturally Good Food and we want to know as much about them as we can! This month, we’re taking a look at five particular foodstuffs. We’re following them from seed to plate, finding out what makes them grow, why they’re good for us, and how we can use them. It’s a real celebration of the huge variety of natural, organic, nutrient-rich foods we stock!

Chia seeds - how do they get to our plates?

Chia seeds: the start of the story

We’re going to kick off with one of the smallest seeds we sell at NGF – the chia seed. These tiny seeds have become a best-seller for us in recent years and, for many people, have the status of a ‘superfood’. But what exactly are they? Where do they come from?

Well, we’ve found out all about them…

Chia, tiny little oval dots, come from a species of mint plant that originated in south America (and had huge significance in Aztec culture). Today, they’re grown all over South America, as well as in the USA and Australia, in a variety of tropical areas (including both desert and rainforest), and in temperate regions too.

It’s the soil conditions that really matter, for chia. The plants grow best in medium-clay or sandy soils, which must be well-drained. The seeds are lightly scattered over the ground (you don’t need to dig deep holes to bury them, thought they should be lightly covered with soil). As seeds, they need to be watered daily, and will quickly begin to sprout, looking rather like cress as they do. After this, they grow rapidly, to around the size of a small tree. Their full growing cycle varies from around 100 to 150 days, depending on the climate: they can cope with ‘moderate drought’ but won’t thrive in wet soils.

We sell organic and non-organic chia seeds at NGF. Chia is particularly suitable for organic production, as there are no major pests or diseases that affect the plants. The leaves of the plant themselves have natural insect-repellent properties, thanks to their essential oils, meaning that farmers can avoid chemical pesticides.

Once the plants hit a height of about five feet, they begin to flower, with beautiful blue/purple or white blossoms at the end of each stem. It’s in the flower heads that you’ll find the seeds.

Harvesting of the seeds begins when the petals have fallen off the flower. It’s not a hugely difficult job: the plants aren’t sharp or prickly to handle and the seeds can easily be separated from the flower heads and sifted.

The seeds might be black, grey or white (or a mixture), with the colour depending purely on the exact heritage of the plant.

After harvesting, the seeds are packaged, sold and exported, to wholesalers. We buy in bulk from wholesalers and pack the bags down further into the sizes required by our customers. They’re then dispatched and find their way into restaurant kitchens, catering facilities and individual kitchens. From there, they make their way onto your plate – and into your tummy!

Why are they good for us?

Chia seeds might be tiny, but they’re mighty! They’re packed with antioxidants and minerals, stuffed with fibre, and are a ‘complete’ source of protein, containing all the essential fatty acids. They’re good for digestion, for battling inflammation and for the slow release of energy. Here’s a full breakdown, from Wikipedia:

‘Dried chia seeds contain 6% water, 42% carbohydrates, 16% protein, and 31% fat. In a 100-gram amount, chia seeds are a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of the B vitamins, thiamin and niacin (54% and 59% DV, respectively), and a moderate source of riboflavin (14% DV) and folate (12% DV). Several dietary minerals are in rich content, including calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc (all more than 20% DV; table). The fatty acids of chia seed oil are mainly unsaturated, with linoleic acid (17–26% of total fat) and linolenic acid (50–57%) as the major fats.

There’s no nutritional difference between the white and black varieties – where they’re separated, this is purely for aesthetic reasons.

How can we use them?

One of the things that sets chia seeds apart from other seeds is the fact that they’re ‘hydrophilic’: they can absorb up to 12 times their weight in liquid, forming a mucilaginous coating that has a thickening, gel-like effect.

We sell our own-label chia seeds, both organic and non-organic, in a range of pack sizes, up to bulk bags. We’ve also got jars of organic chia seeds, white and black, from Raw Health, and, for ease of digestion, milled chia seeds from Linwoods. You’ll find vegan pates with chia, soups with chia, and crispbreads with chia, too, on our shelves – as the years go by, chia is making its way into more and more products!

As well as bringing a particular texture to your dishes, and a nutritional boost, many people simply like the taste of the seeds – they’re slightly nutty. The size of the seeds, too, makes them easy to add to all manner of dishes. Here are some ideas for using them:

  • add them to muesli, yoghurt or porridge
  • spoon them into smoothies
  • add them to mixes for cakes, muffins, pancakes and bread
  • sprinkle them into stews and casseroles: they’ll have a thickening effect. Along the same lines, you can add them to the left-over liquid from a stew, allow it to thicken, and then use that as a nutritious sauce in its own right for vegetables or potatoes
  • grind them, and add milk or fruit juice for a kind of porridge or sweet mush
  • sprinkle them over a salad
  • add them to an omelette mix
  • scatter a few over a stir-fry just before serving.

Having a bag to hand in the kitchen means that you can incorporate them and all their health benefits easily into your diet, without having to think of any particular recipe.

The end of the story?

We’ve followed chia seeds from the flower head to your digestive system. There’s just one more place to go…you’ll be pleased to know that chia seeds, thanks to their fibre content and water-absorbing properties, are a big help with ‘optimal stool formation’ – they keep everything moist inside and easy to pass!

Naturally Good Reads v2


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This post was written by Yzanne

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