Salvia hispanica and Salvia columbariea are members of the mint family originally native to Mexico and Guatemala. Most Americans know these plants, also called chia, from ceramic seed-sprouting figurines called Chia Pets. Chia seeds and sprouts can also be eaten, and provide omega-3 fatty acids. These seeds are relatively simple to grow at home but do require some preparation for proper sprouting.
Chia seeds are notable for their mucilaginous coating. The seeds' outer layer is made up of hemicellulose, a hydrophilic (water-loving) material that can absorb up to 300 times its own weight in water, according to the University of Arkansas. To sprout chia seeds, soak them in water until the outer coating swells up. Then place them in a bowl, plastic bag or other container in a sunny location. They should germinate in about five days, producing edible sprouts. Unsoaked chia seeds will not sprout.
Chia seeds are used as a beverage ingredient in Mexico and Central America. Chia seeds, mixed in water until they expand, are then combined with sugar and lime or lemon juice. The resulting beverage is called chia fresca. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, this drink has a minty taste and can be used to make extremely alkaline desert water more palatable.
Chia seeds can be ground up and used in muffins, breads and other baked goods, or sprinkled into food and beverages in much the same way as flax seeds. These seeds have also been traditionally used to make tortillas, cakes, biscuits and porridge by native peoples of Central America. Grinding the seeds makes them more easily digestible. To prepare ground chia seeds, place them in a clean coffee or spice grinder. Grind them with a pulsing technique to avoid overheating the seeds and reducing their nutritional value. Store the ground seeds in an airtight container.
Roasted chia seeds have a nutty flavor and can be used whole in a variety of foods. Roast raw chia seeds by placing them on a baking pan in an oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the seeds, stirring them occasionally until they are lightly browned and give off a nutty odor. Chia seeds can also be roasted on a heavy pan or skillet, such as cast iron or cast aluminum.
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