Gluten-Free Pantry Essentials: Chia Seeds
I have partnered with Sara Morrison and Tom Merrow of Onset Worldwide, a global supplier of high-quality bulk superfoods (along with other related services), to provide you with information about naturally gluten-free ingredients that you may want to add to your gluten-free pantry.
As a bulk wholesaler, Onset Worldwide supplies manufacturers, contract packaging companies, commercial bakeries, and other companies that source large volumes of high-quality bulk (2000+ pounds per order) ingredients.
Sara and Tom have customers who rely on them to provide the best available quality ingredients, so they have made it their business to know as much as they can about each of the ingredients they offer. I met them over the summer and was impressed with the breadth of their knowledge, especially as it relates to differences in ingredient quality. As purchasing superfoods gets easier for the average consumer—they are now available everywhere from warehouse discount stores to high-end health food stores—it is more important than ever to know how to select the right option for you.
What are they?
The chia plant is an herb belonging to the mint family that grows 1-1.2 meters tall. It produces green foliage before producing long flowers, which are either purple or white. These flowers develop into seed pods to produce chia seeds.
Where are they sourced?
Chia plants are grown commercially in Central and South America and Australia. We at Onset Worldwide source our chia mainly from Paraguay and Argentina.
Why are they good for you?
Chia seeds are high in iron, protein, fiber, and calcium. They are commonly used to control hunger and enhance diets. Chia seeds grow 9-10 times their size when exposed to a liquid. This feature is great for hydration! Chia will slowly release the water during digestion.
How do you determine if they are high quality?
Determining quality of chia seeds consists of a visual, physical and analytical inspection. We visually look for dockage (which consists of stems and other plant parts) and determine the purity based on a representative sample and weight of dockage versus clean seed. We also send the seeds to a lab for testing: standard plate count, coliform count, e. coli, staphylococcus count, salmonella, yeast, mold, and aflatoxin. The farm also tests the oil content % for each lot. The color of the seed is also important to some customers for aesthetic purposes, especially for white chia seed and flour lots (see more information about color differences below).
What options can you buy?
Whole Chia Seeds
Conventional vs Organic Chia
Organic Chia is certified organic throughout the entire supply chain. The farms must go through extensive water, soil, and air quality testing, as well as only use USDA organic approved pesticides/herbicides, if any. All the processing and cleaning equipment at the farms, mills, and packaging facilities must be maintained and cleaned per organic standards. The seeds themselves must be non-GMO and not irradiated as well. The organic lot numbers must be traceable from source to consumer. More information on organic standards can be found on the USDA website.
Conventional Chia doesn’t have to follow these rigorous procedures; however, most conventional chia farmers, who we work with, don’t use synthetic pesticides/herbicides. Chia seeds are not yet genetically modified, and therefore, Onset Worldwide can also offer a Non-GMO statement to customers for both conventional and organic chia.
Black vs White Chia
There isn’t much of a difference between black and white chia seeds. They are both from the same botanical variety, Salvia Hispanica L. They both contain essentially the same nutritionals. The main difference is the color, availability, and price. The white chia has lower yields when harvesting, and it is not grown as commonly. Therefore, white chia is rarer to find and more expensive. Some commercial bakeries prefer the white chia and white chia flour over black due the color and the fact that is looks more like standard white flour in their baked goods.
There are big color differences when it comes to lots and sources of white chia. Most wholesale customers of white chia seeds require a specific purity. When we buy white chia, we require the farm to provide a percentage of black seed in the lot. All our white chia is color-sorted at origin or grown on a field that had never grown black chia before.
Chia flour can be used as a nutritional supplement. It has a subtle and slightly nutty flavor. A dosage varies from person to person. Use chia flour in a wide variety of gluten-free recipes as 1-to-1 replacement for wheat flours or others flours. Mix in with foods like yogurt, oatmeal or shakes for extra fiber, protein, minerals and antioxidants. In one lot’s nutritional test, our organic defatted chia flour has 29.3 grams of protein, 7 grams of fat, and 53.6 grams of fiber per 100 grams.
Milled Chia Flour
The milled chia flour is the whole chia seed milled into a flour. It is a coarse flour because the oil (still in the seed) causes an extra obstacle of clumping and caking if not milled properly, but it is preferable for customers interested in more omega content (fatty acids in the chia oil) in their chia flour.
Defatted Chia Flour
The defatted chia flour consists of the chia oil (the fat) being cold-pressed out of the whole chia seed, and the remaining cake being milled in the a fine flour. We are able to achieve a finer mesh (smaller granules) with the defatted chia flour due to the oil be removed. It is preferable for customers interested in a flour with lower fat content and therefore higher protein concentration.
Chia oil is becoming a hot commodity in the beauty industry, specifically as an ingredient in moisturizers. The concentrated omega-3 fats and antioxidants found in chia oil have anti-inflammatory and hydrating effects on your skin to cause an “anti-aging” effect. As consumers become more conscious about what they are putting into and on their bodies, a demand for chemical-free and nature-based products has risen.
How do you store them?
This is what we write on our COAs (certificates of analysis) after import and testing: “Shelf life is 24 months from testing date, if it is stored in its original, closed packaging, in dry and dark conditions. You are advised to keep product at room temperature or below (18°C or 65°F), and below 70% relative humidity. Re-test after 24 months.”
How long can you store them?
We recommend storing edible seeds no longer than 2 years, as moisture or storage conditions may hinder the shelf life. Flours and oils may have shorter shelf lives. Always check the best by or use by date on the retail packaging, as the product may have aged since import.
How can you use them?
Chia seeds are commonly added to yogurts, smoothies, breakfast cereals, hot oatmeal, protein drinks, salads, energy bars and, more.
Replace eggs or oil by gelling chia seeds. Mix a tablespoon of chia seeds with 1/4 cup of water for the equivalent of a single egg or quarter cup of oil in a recipe. To avoid a noticeable alteration in flavor, only substitute 25% of your recipe’s egg or oil requirement.
Chia seeds form a gel in liquid. Therefore, you can use chia seeds as a thickener in place of flour or corn starch in your recipes: including soups, sauces, stews, smoothies, etc.