How to Cook with Chia Seeds

They're not just for growing pets made of leafy greens

It's a bird, it's a plane . . . no, it's just a minuscule superfood here to defend its spot on top of the podium in the health food world.

Chia seeds are nothing new. In fact, they've been around for thousands of years; the Aztecs and Mayans were fueling up on them before CrossFitters were. But now is just as good a time as any to understand the health benefits these tiny seeds pack thanks to the myriad of possible uses. Nutritionally speaking, they're filled with fiber, protein and vitamins, and come with a binder full of health claims. Taste-wise, they're like nuttier poppy seeds, and their chameleon-like texture—whether adding crunch to granola or smoothing out oatmeal—is unparalleled.

Now that you're acquainted with the millimeter-sized ingredient, here are six ways to plant the seed for more chia in your life.

Egg them on.
Chia seeds can act as thickeners in baked goods. The seeds start to swell slightly when hydrated, turning them into "chia eggs" within minutes. Whether you're vegan, trying to impress an egg-free friend or just plain out of eggs, they're an easy and just-as-good substitute. Try them in quick breads, muffins and even waffles. 

Be a smooth(ie) operator.
Since you can never have too many healthy ingredients in the morning before giving way to a pizza lunch or the afternoon snack attack, add a tablespoon of chia to your a.m. smoothie. Thanks to the aforementioned thickening ability, they'll firm up your drink, similar to breakfast bowl status—which you'd have to then top with more seeds, naturally.

Lay it on thick.
Let's do a deep dive into those thickening properties. Chia seeds can also stand on their own outside of baked goods, perfect for an overnight oat-like chia pudding. Simply soak the seeds in liquid (try using coconut or almond milk), or if you're not a fan of miniature globules rolling around in your mouth, give the mixture a whirl in the blender before eating. Whether that counts as breakfast or dessert is up to you.

Put fuel in the tank.
While most endurance runners slurp down goop from a tear-and-go packet, some of the world's best athletes are all about chia seeds, which are also all-natural electrolytes. For chewable chia benefits, go for granola bars whose small size belie the amount of energy they provide. If mobility is key, try refreshing (and delicious) drinks like Mamma Chia, which slides down your throat with ease.

⑤ Skip the sugar.
Homemade jam can also benefit from the addition of chia seeds. They can take the place of normal thickeners like pectin or added sugars, because they absorb such a massive amount of liquid. This means a final product that's less cloying than typical preserves and uses less ingredients as well.

⑥ The perfect topper.
You don't have to mash the seeds to enjoy them: They're perfectly fine to eat on their own. In her first cookbook, vegan guru Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows even suggests filling a salt shaker with chia seeds to have on hand at meals. Then you can use them as liberally as a seasoning minus the risk of hypertension from overuse.

Try your hand at these seed-focused recipes:

• Chia-Pomegranate Pudding
• Raspberry Chia Seed Jam Oat Crumble Squares
• No-Cook Overnight Chia Seed Oatmeal
• Banana Nut Energy Bars
• Vegan Whole-Wheat Waffles