July 1, 2010


A gel made from chia seeds -- the same seeds that are used in the popular Chia Pet line -- may start sprouting up in a very unexpected place: cake recipes!

A new study has found that the chia seed gel may work as a substitute for eggs or oil in cakes to reduce the fat content.

The study's authors, led by Dr. Rafael Borneo, from the Center of Excellence in Products and Processes C³rdoba in Argentina, experimented with cake recipes that substituted 25 percent, 50 percent, or 75 percent of eggs or oil in the original recipes for the gel made from chia seeds and water.

They fed each cake variety to a group of 75 young adults and asked them to judge the cakes based on appearance, texture, and taste.

The cakes made with 25 percent chia gel received a thumbs-up. Taste testers said the cake was just as good as the original. The cakes with 50 and 75 percent substitutions were not as good as the real thing to testers, although most said it wasn't bad either.

Substituting 25 percent of a cake's oil with the gel cut the calories from 335 to 317 per piece and lowered fat from 10.7 grams to 8.7 grams, according to the researchers.

Advocates of the plant hope that studies like this will help convince food companies to take chia seriously.

Dr. Wayne Coates, an agricultural engineer who has been studying the plant for almost 20 years but was not involved with the current research, said that it isn't surprising that chia seeds can help make a healthier cake without sacrificing much taste.

"You can add it to anything," he told Reuters Health, adding that it is full of nutrients including antioxidants, fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Borneo cited its anti-inflammatory properties, and his study is not the first time chia has been hyped for its health benefits. Long before it became famous as a Chia Pet it was used as a staple crop in Mexico and Guatemala.

Michael Hirsch, the vice president of Joseph Enterprises, the company that produces Chia Pets, said the company was aware of the health benefits of chia, but decided not to take that route. But now that more research is supporting its health benefits, Joseph Enterprises has started promoting recipes using chia as well, he noted.

Coates thinks it won't be too long before chia starts showing up on grocery store shelves. The seeds are already sold in health food stores, and cost in the neighborhood of $1.75 per pound. Larger companies are also starting to get interested in the health benefits of the plants, Coates said.