I confess: I’ve jumped on the chia seed bandwagon. At least when it comes to chia seed pudding.
You may be familiar with chia seeds from the chia pet craze of the 1980s.* Turns out, those quick-growing seeds are also a mini nutritional powerhouse, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a variety of amino acids (protein), and heart- and gut-healthy fiber. Yeah, that’s all well and good, but what’s really fun about them is the way they react to liquids.
Like an initiation into molecular gastronomy, combining chia seeds and liquids such as water, milk, or even yogurt causes the fiber in the seeds to leach into the liquid, forming a gel (fun!). Depending on how much or how little liquid you add and the length of time you let it sit, the gel can be as thick as needed. The advantages of this chemical reaction have been used in the kitchen to develop various concoctions ranging from chia seed agua fresca to chia seed pudding. (You can also mix them into cereals and baked goods like you would with flaxseeds—and the bonus is that chia seeds don’t need to be ground first for your body to absorb the omega-3s.)
Now I’m not so sure about the agua fresca (although I must confess I’ve only tried chia seed kombucha, which kombucha in and of itself is strange enough), but chia seed pudding might be my new obsession. It’s just so easy to put together, and the variations are fairly endless, from the dark chocolate recipe below to plain vanilla, citrus, berry, pumpkin, and even more—all of which can be put together in a matter of seconds. Don’t get me wrong, I like spending time in the kitchen, but there’s something about a recipe that I can throw together in about two minutes, then leave to let culinary chemistry do its job in the fridge overnight.
And how does it taste? Pretty good for health food, if you ask me. The seeds themselves taste fairly benign, perhaps slightly herby, so they basically pick up the flavors you’ve mixed in. And as long as you let it sit overnight, the texture is very similar to tapioca pudding, although you may need to be conscious of the visual presentation (the dark seeds can be off-putting to some when mixed into a light-colored milk base).
Fortunately, the recipe below results in a dark pudding, which is perfect for chia newbies. The cocoa powder also adds an extra boost of antioxidants, so it’s like sneaking in health food disguised as dessert. In fact, many people enjoy this dish for breakfast, although I’m not sold on that idea just yet.
*Experts (and I) do not recommend eating the chia seeds that come with your chia pet, just in case you were so inclined. There are plenty of food-grade seed brands out there that are probably healthier and tastier. Buy one of those.
Dark Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding
(serves 2 for dessert or 1 for breakfast)
1 cup milk of your choice (cow, soy, almond, rice, goat, whatever)
3 tablespoons chia seeds
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 or so tablespoons real maple syrup, to taste (or your favorite sweetener, although you may need to adjust proportions)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Stir all ingredients together until cocoa powder is incorporated. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Remove and stir well. Cover and return to fridge overnight.