If you stop in a natural foods store these days, you can’t help but stumble over items containing chia seeds. Breakfast cereals, energy bars, drinks… These tiny seeds grown and used since ancient times in South American countries are more remembered as the sprouting ingredient in chia pets (remember those – “the pottery that grows!”?). They are apparently high in fiber, protein, antioxidants, omega3s, and calcium (the seeds, not the pottery). The seeds are found in whole and ground forms. The milled seeds are better for absorption of omega-3s, and many places now sell or use a ground seed in their products that are meant to confer a health benefit.
Admittedly, I went for testing out the seeds as a food product for their gelatinous properties and not for their nutritional value. When added to a liquid – juice, non-dairy milks, water, etc. – the seed coating absorbs the liquid and swells, and the slight breakdown of the gelatinous cover will thicken the dish to a pudding like consistency. The property makes it a likely substitute for other carb-heavy thickening agents like tapioca or cornstarch, for eggs as an ingredient, and for use in gluten free baking to add a more airy texture to the finished product.
After checking out a recipe by Sunny Side Up Soph (check out her site – lots of healthy options for indulgences), I opted to try out something safe, a dessert chocolate pudding, rather than a breakfast type overnight oatmeal substitute too see if I liked the texture and taste of the seeds once soaked. I’m still up for testing out versions of this that are more breakfast than dessert oriented. I like the idea of grabbing a jar of chia seed cereal in the morning when I’m rushed for time (uh, every morning).
In this recipe I use whole seeds, but future posts will look at uses for the milled version. Demand is up and chia is grown in limted regions so I’ve noticed prices creeping up. Whole seeds are going for $19 dollars a pound at my local Whole Foods (the only source I could find nearby to buy a small amount for testing). If I decide to use these in more foods, I’ll definitely be researching sites with the best prices.
My verdict: I really enjoyed this as a dessert after dinner. It reminded me a bit of a tapioca or rice pudding, but with a crunchy center in the jelly-like bead of the soaked seed. Its much less chewy than tapioca or rice, but has very small amounts of carbohydrates. The chocolate flavor predominated, with a hint of nutty coconut that lends a richness. There was a slight hint of earthiness in the flavor, very slight, but for the most part chia doesn’t really taste like anything. Texture is its thing. Other than the little crunch in the center, the consistency was that of a nice rich pudding.
Chia Seed Dark Chocolate Dessert Pudding – single serving
2 Tablespoons of chia seed
2 teaspoons of cocoa powder
2-3 tablespoons of whole fat coconut milk – the unsweetened kind in the can
1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk or other dairy-free milk MINUS 2-3 tablespoons. (The total liquid should come to 1/2 cup between the almond and coconut. Keep them separate. You’ll see why below.)
1 Tablespoon of sweeter of choice
Berries for a garnish (optional)
Measure the chia seeds into a wide mouth jar with a lid that will fit at least 1 cup of liquid. Add the sweetener, cocoa, and coconut milk. Mix this together with a spoon until the cocoa has dissolved and blended with the other ingredients (no lumps). Add the remaining milk substitute and stir until well mixed. Put on the lid and refrigerate overnight (or for at least 6-7 hours). Garnish with berries, if desired.
- I use Valrhona cocoa for its rich flavor and personally prefer a Dutch process cocoa powder over natural.
- Be sure to use at room temp and shake or whisk the coconut milk to blend the coconut cream (fats) into the coconut liquid. If its too cold to mix, you can gently warm the milk (out of the can) in a heatproof bowl in the microwave or in a pan on the stove. You don’t want it hot, just warm enough to blend the fats.
- If you don’t want to open a whole can for a few tablespoons (I totally get it – I just always have some extra in the fridge), try substituting thinner coconut milk that is meant to be poured over cereal, like that pictured above in the box, for 1/2 of the total milk. So 1/4 cup coconut and 1/4 cup almond. Or just go for it and use whatever milk you prefer. 🙂
- Adjust sweeteners to your taste, you may need a bit more or less depending on the sweetness profile of your dairy free milk and your own sweet/bitter preferences with chocolate. The less sweetener, the more “dark chocolate” flavored this will be, but also more bitter.
- Sugar free sweeteners and chocolate have a contentious relationship. Some low cal sweeteners may make the chocolate taste a bit metallic, or slightly odd. I don’t, for example, like Splenda and chocolate together. But stevia and erythritol products like Truvia taste bit different too because of the “cooling effect” on the tongue. I stuck with Truvia here but this may be a case where you splurge on the sugars in honey, maple syrup, or palm sugar.
- After 8 hours the crunch of the seeds was still distinct inside the jelly like bead. After 24 hours, the seed had softened somewhat to be less crunch, but so had the jelly beads to be less cohesive. You might prefer one or the other and plan accordingly.
- It is high in fiber – so if you have problems digesting other whole seeds, you may want to test out a chia product in small amounts to see how you tolerate it.