I remember the first time I thought of using chia seeds as part of our backcountry cooking repertoire. I was chatting with my husband, Bryan, about how terrific they’d be for the trail and he broke out into the Chia Pet™ theme song “ch-ch-ch-chia”. Every time I sat down to write this, I found myself humming the tune and thinking of the Chia head I planted as a child. Who knew those little seeds could be used for anything more than novelty.
Chia seeds (salvia hispanica) come in two forms, black and white. The white chia is also known as salba, however there is little difference between the two other than color. Chia has a great nutritional profile. These little seeds are not only high in protein but they are a good source of calcium. Chia also has vitamin C, omega 3, and magnesium. Antioxidant properties and fiber are also high. The seeds are an excellent source of potassium containing double the potassium of a banana. This in itself can be helpful to hikers wanting to replace electrolytes because potassium is one of the things we lose when we sweat. Aside from the nutritional benefits, which are many, there is also a variety of ways that you can include chia in your trail diet.
Chia makes an excellent replacement for eggs in trail baking. When I was creating some vegan and gluten-free recipes for Another Fork in the Trail
, I found that not being able to use eggs in the baking meant that things didn’t hold together well. Then the proverbial light bulb went on and I had one of those “A-ha!” moments. You see, chia gels when mixed with water and that gel reminded me of raw egg whites. Use 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water to make the equivalent of one whole egg. If you don’t want the texture of the seeds in your baking, you can grind the chia into meal first or purchase chia flour. The darker chia will make some baked goods a little gray in color, but you can also buy white chia seeds if appearance is an issue.
Chia can be made into a drink called Chia Fresca or Iskiate. This Central American drink is simply a mixture of sugar, water and lime juice and is often used by marathon runners as an energy drink. You have to ensure that you have a good amount of water in ratio to the seeds or it will be too thick to drink.
The seeds add nutrition to hot breakfast cereals such as oatmeal or brown rice farina. They can be added to granolas or mueslis as well as in bars that you make at home to take with you. Even if you don’t use chia to replace the egg in trail baking you can use it to bump up the nutrition of your favorite trail muffin.
Chia can also be used to make a pudding like dessert such as the one below.
Blueberry-Apple Chia Pudding
Dehydration Time: 6-15 hours
Makes 2 servings
Chia seeds gel when mixed with liquid, which is perfect for making a vegan pudding on the trail. You could add a bit of carob powder or unsweetened cocoa powder to this if you would like a chocolaty treat or swap out the blueberries for raspberries to create yet another flavor. This is yummy served with your favorite gingersnaps.
1/2 cup frozen blueberries, thawed
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1 tablespoon maple syrup, maple sugar, or agave nectar, to taste
Place the berries, applesauce, and vanilla extract in a food processor and purée until smooth. Spread the purée about ¼-inch thick on lined dehydrator trays.
Let the fruit dry for 6 to 15 hours (depending on the moisture content of the purée) until it is pliable like leather. Wrap it in plastic wrap and store in a cool dry place or the refrigerator until your trip. Before you leave wrap the chia seeds in a piece of plastic wrap and put them in a ziplock freezer bag with the fruit leather. Add the maple syrup or sugar to what you will take with you on your trip.
Tear the fruit leather into very small pieces and add 1/2 cup boiling water. Let rehydrate and when it has cooled and the leather has come back to a sauce, add the chia seeds. Let sit for an additional 20-30 minutes adding additional cool water if needed to make a pudding-like consistency.
Double or triple the blueberry-applesauce mixture and save some to use as fruit leather.
There are other uses for chia too. White chia flour is made from ground chia seeds and can replace up to one-third of the flour you are using. Chia flour acts as a binder and can improve the texture of baked goods as well as add nutrition when used in combination with other flours. If you can’t find chia flour, you can take white chia seeds and grind them in a coffee grinder or flour mill.
Chia seeds can be sprouted on the trail in a water bottle or hemp sprouting bag and enjoyed in a wrap or pita with other ingredients to give that fresh green crunch that hikers often miss after a few days in the wilds.
As you can see, this tiny little seed isn’t just for those quirky little terracotta heads that many of us remember from childhood, they can be a versatile and lightweight ingredient that adds nutrition to your trail diet.