The word “chia” has long invoked a similar sense of nostalgia in a great number of Americans due to the astounding popularity of the Chia Pet, first introduced in the late 1970s. However, thanks to the health food movement currently sweeping across the United States, the chia seed has garnered a whole new level of fame due to its recently revealed nutritional benefits. Yes, the very same tiny black seed responsible for the impressive layer of verdant sprouts atop the head of many a terra cotta Barack Obama now plays a valuable role in the diets of a growing amount of health-conscious folk, who appreciate the generous concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, protein, and fiber found in Salvia hispanica. These nourishing properties have been shown to positively impact cardiovascular health and control inflammation, as well as provide plant-based sources of important nutrients for vegan, vegetarians, or those simply trying to reduce their consumption of meat and dairy products.
While modern-day health enthusiasts passionately extol the virtues of chia seeds, the ancient Aztecs recognized the power contained within these miniscule kernels as far back as 3500 BCE, when Aztec warriors depended on rations of chia seeds to provide them with energy and endurance on long runs during their conquests. Contemporary science affirms chia seeds as exceptionally helpful in maintaining body hydration during athletic activity, since the immensely hydrophilic seeds can absorb more than twelve times their weight in water.
While chia seeds lend themselves well to sprinkling on top of granola, stirring into muffin or bread batters, and blending into smoothies, their ability to soak up ample amounts of water renders chia seeds ideal for creating thick, creamy, tapioca-like puddings. Perfect for a healthy breakfast, dessert, or pre-workout snack, chia puddings serves as a delicious way to incorporate these nuggets of impressive nutrition into your diet. Students often caught in a morning rush (can you say two minutes to sprint from the TH’s to Kenyon?) will appreciate the ease and simplicity of making chia pudding, which can provide an instant breakfast with a bit of foresight. Before falling into dreamland or settling in for a late night of reading, combine three tablespoons of chia seeds with a scant cup of plant-based milk, cinnamon, and a bit of maple syrup in a portable container, then pop the mixture into your mini-fridge to allow the chia to soak up all that creamy goodness overnight. In the morning, you can grab your pre-made pudding, pair it with a banana from the Retreat, and arrive on time for class.
Those new to the process of chia pudding-crafting should not become discouraged if their first few attempts yield overly runny or pasty results—different chia seeds absorb varying amounts of liquid, so predicting how much plant-based milk your pudding will require can prove a bit difficult. To avoid a disappointing chia experience, simply employ your kitchen intuition. The final texture of chia pudding should resemble that of tapioca pudding—spoon-able and pourable, but not soupy. Thus, if you soak your chia overnight and find the mixture too thick, add more liquid in quarter-cup increments until you’ve thinned the pudding to your desired consistency. Similarly, if you deem your pudding too runny, mix in two more tablespoons of chia seeds and allow the mixture to sit for about ten minutes.
Chia pudding provides a blank slate for all sorts of flavor variations, including chocolate (add some cocoa powder), pumpkin (substitute half of the plant-based milk with pumpkin puree), and chai spice (add a mixture of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and allspice), to name a few. This particular recipe features the sweet Indian spice of cardamom, paired with antioxidant-rich blueberries. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more nutritious pudding than this one! You can purchase chia seeds at House of Nutrition.
Blueberry Cardamom Chia Seed Pudding
Recipe adapted from Gena Hamshaw.
½ cup chia seeds
2 ½ cups plant-based milk (soy, almond, rice, coconut, etc.)
1 cup blueberries, defrosted if frozen
1 ½ tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp cinnamon
4 dates, pitted and chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a blender, combine all of the ingredients except for the chia seeds. Puree until very smooth. Place the chia seeds in a medium-sized bowl, pour the blueberry mixture over them, and stir thoroughly with a whisk or a fork. Let rest for five minutes, then stir again. Ten minutes later, stir once more. Place the bowl in the refrigerator and let sit overnight.
In the morning, give the pudding a final stir and check its texture. If the mixture seems too thick, simply add more plant-based milk; the texture should resemble that of tapioca pudding. Serve as is or garnished with nuts, granola, and/or fresh fruit.