- Until 2012, chia seeds were only permitted for sale in the UK as a bread ingredient. Later that year, the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes permitted their use in a wider variety of products.
- Chia seeds expand when added to water or liquid, hence their suitability as a thickener for many recipes. They can also be used as a replacement for egg. Add one tablespoon of ground chia seeds to three tablespoons of water and leave for 10 minutes to set.
- The global chia seeds market was valued at $360m in 2016 and is expected to reach US$5.04bn by 2025, according to a report by Coherent Market Insights, with demand from the food and beverages industry leading the growth.
Boasting an impressive number of nutritional benefits despite their diminutive size, chia seeds have unsurprisingly become a popular addition to the diets of the health conscious.
Each small, dark, oil-rich seed contains fibre, protein, omega-3, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium and a host of other vitamins, which has led to chia seeds joining the superfood hall of fame.
Yet, nutritional benefits are just one area where the tiny treasures excel. As Vijay Kumar, head chef at West London hotel The Chilworth, notes, chia seeds work well as both binding and raising agents, and are often used as a substitute for egg in vegan dishes.
They are commonly found sprinkled in smoothies like Malibu Kitchen's top seller the Topanga – a blend of banana, sprouted brown rice protein, cacao, maca, chia and oat milk – and shakes such as Pomona's Chia Fix: chia seeds, coconut yoghurt and pineapple juice. Their nutty flavour means they add an element of interest to savoury dishes such as salads as well. You’ll find them currently nestled among spiced pumpkin, guacamole, salsa, cheese and more in the Benito's Hat Cha Cha Chia Burrito.
Native to South America and grown mainly in Australia and Africa, chia seeds have, until now, been shipped to the UK. However, the first commercial crop of UK-grown seeds went on the market earlier this year, making it easier for chia seeds to leap out of the healthy breakfast arena and onto more British restaurant menus.
Maddy Haysey, head chef at Malibu Kitchen at The Ned in London, makes a flatbread using chia seeds: “This is our version of a gluten-free flatbread, made using a blend of soaked nuts, courgettes, parsley, chia seeds and cumin. We then dehydrate the mixture at 58 degrees until it is crispy. We top it with a cashew hummus and a mixture of seasonal raw and pickled veg, adding some micro herbs for extra flavour and decoration. In this dish, we blend the chia seeds with the flatbreads and sprinkle them on top of the dish to add extra crunch, but you can also soak them, so that they expand to eight times their size and provide a smoother, more porridge like texture.”
Vijay Kumar, head chef at The Chilworth Hotel, London, makes a chia pudding as a breakfast dish: “Soaked chia seeds are mixed with grated apple and pomegranate seeds to create a fresh and healthy breakfast booster. We use 30g of chia seeds soaked in 100ml of milk for two hours and add one tablespoon of sugar, 35g grated fresh apple and 40g pomegranate seeds to garnish. The chia seeds have a nutty texture that blends in well with food and drinks, whether savoury or sweet. They also have great health benefits so work for our healthy breakfast offer – they have a good amount of protein, are high in vitamin B, fibre, omega-3 fatty acids, packed with antioxidants and low on calories. What more can you want?”
Claire Fox, co-owner of spice blend company Freshly Spiced, makes turmeric energy balls using chia seeds: “Everyone struggles with snacks that are healthy, filling and most of all satisfy those sugar cravings we all sometimes get. These are a great on-the-go snack. To make them, soak 12-14 dates in boiled water for about five minutes to soften, then remove and save the water for later. Blitz half a cup of cashews in a food processor and set aside. Then, combine a cup of oats, a tablespoon of chia seeds, 4-5 tablespoons of lemon juice, lemon zest, a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a teaspoon of Freshly Spiced turmeric with the dates in a food processor and blitz to form a dough, adding a little water from the dates if needed. Roll into bite-sized balls and lightly roll in the cashew powder.”