Chia seeds have become a trendy health food in recent years for a number of reasons. First and foremost, they're filled with nutrients and offer a number of health benefits. They also develop a gelatinous coating when submerged in water, which produces a substance that's very close in texture to tapioca pudding. This unique ability, plus the fact that they're virtually tasteless and take on the flavor of foods they're mixed with, makes them very popular among health-conscious home cooks.

Benefits of Chia Seeds

Chia seeds have a high concentration of nutrients, such as essential fatty acids, fiber, protein, minerals, and antioxidants. The health benefits of chia seeds include lowering cholesterol levels, demonstrating anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic activity, and protecting against arthritis. Chia seeds are also a low-glycemic food, which means they don't spike blood sugar and help you feel full longer.

How to Consume Them

Here are a few ways you can reap the benefits of chia seeds by incorporating them into your meals.

Make Chia Seed Pudding

The most popular way to prepare chia seeds is to make a chia seed pudding. Just soak chia seeds in a liquid like milk, coconut water, or juice for at least four hours or overnight, and then garnish them with fruit slices or nuts. You can experiment with flavors by making fruit or berry purees and using them to rehydrate the seeds. You can even make a chocolate chia pudding by melting a small amount of dark chocolate in some nut milk and mixing it with chia seeds. A good ratio for a chia seed pudding is 3 tablespoons of chia seeds to 1 cup of liquid.

Add Them to Your Breakfast

To make your breakfast more nutritious, add a tablespoon of chia seeds to your morning smoothie. Chia seeds will also make your oatmeal creamier. Just soak them in water for a few minutes before mixing them in, or add them to your overnight oats. You can even soak them in milk and make a chia seed parfait.

Bake with Them

You can add whole chia seeds to muffins or banana bread to make them richer in fiber, or use them as a garnish and sprinkle them on top of baked goods. Chia seed meal is a popular ingredient in gluten-free baking because they're naturally gluten-free. You can also use chia seed meal in recipes that call for flaxseed meal or as an egg substitute. Keep in mind that black chia seeds can change the color of your baked goods and make them darker; to avoid this, use white chia seeds.

Thicken Soups and Sauces

Skip flour and cornstarch and try using chia seeds to thicken soups, stews, sauces, and gravies. Soak a few tablespoons of ground chia seeds in warm water for about 15 to 20 minutes. If the chia seeds clump together, whisk vigorously to separate them. Add the mixture to the dish and stir well.

Make an Energy Drink

A 2011 study found that chia seeds are as effective as commercial energy drinks when it comes to maintaining athletic performance. So skip the sugary energy drinks made with artificial dyes that you find at the store, and make your own using chia seeds. The best part is that you can customize your drink as much as you want. To make your chia seed drink, pour 2 cups of liquid—tea, coconut water, nut milk, juice, or plain water—into a bottle, add 1 tablespoon of chia seeds, and shake it well. Let it stand for about 15 minutes and then shake it again. You can enjoy it right away or keep it for later. You can also experiment by adding berries, fruit, or lemon slices to the drink, or changing the ratio of ingredients.

Whip Up Some Refrigerator Jam

Add chia seeds to a refrigerator jam that's made with small soft berries, such as raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries. If you want to use a bigger berry, like strawberries, cut them into small pieces. To make a small batch of refrigerator jam, place 2 cups of fresh or frozen berries, 1/4 cup of water, and 2 tablespoons of natural sweetener, such as maple syrup or coconut sugar, into a small pot and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. Stir occasionally until small bubbles start rising to the top, turn off the heat, add the chia seeds, and mix well. Leave the pot on the warm stove for about 20 minutes and then transfer the jam to a glass jar. Keep the jar in the fridge with a tight lid and consume it within a week.

With so many fun ways to use them, chia seeds can become a healthy staple in any pantry. However, if you are new to chia, as with any new food, make sure to start off consuming them in small quantities.