Chia seeds are small black seeds that come from the Salvia Hispanica plant. They have been around for a long time, dating back to the Aztecs and Mayans, and are known for their high nutritional value. Some people have even classified them as a superfood alongside other nutrient-packed options like fish and leafy greens.
Chia seeds are also famous for adapting to the taste of any food they are mixed with. This, in combination with their high nutritional content, makes them a favorite for many people. Even though they are native to Mexico’s central and southern parts and cultivated widely there, chia seeds are commercially available in several parts of the world.
So, what is the best substitute for chia seeds? The best substitute for chia seeds is flax seeds, also known as linseeds. Flax seeds are slightly larger than chia seeds, but they are packed with proteins and fiber, quite like chia seeds. Flax seeds are also highly hydrophobic, absorbing water to become gelatinous when soaked.
An Overview of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are mostly known for their nutritional value. A single ounce of chia seeds contains 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, as well as up to 30% of the recommended daily intake of magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese. A single ounce of chia seeds will also deliver 137 calories to the body.
Chia seeds can absorb water and grow to become 12 times their weight in liquid. This gives them a characteristic of a gel-like texture when soaked. You can get chia seeds all-year-round in most grocery stores. They also have a long shelf-life, lasting up to 2 years when kept at room temperature.
Why Replace Chia Seeds?
- You may want a different nutrient profile: As nutritious as chia seeds are, you may crave a different alternative. Fortunately, some substitutes provide this while still supplying essential nutrients like proteins and minerals.
- You’re avoiding side effects: As with everything else, chia seeds can cause side effects when consumed in excess. These may include abdominal pain and flaring up of inflammatory bowel disease. Even though these side effects are rare, taking a break from chia seeds is a great way to eliminate them altogether.
- You want a different taste: Chia seeds are mild tasting, and more commonly, will adopt the taste of whatever food they are cooked with. If you want foods that can add their own unique flavor to your dish, substituting the seeds may be a good idea.
Best Substitutes for Chia Seeds
Best Overall Substitute for Chia Seeds: Flax Seeds
Flax seeds are also known as linseeds, and they are, by far, the most suitable substitutes for chia seeds. They are similar in size — though slightly larger — and they have a similar nutrient profile. In fact, flax seeds have more omega-3 fatty acids.
Flax seeds also share other qualities with chia seeds. For example, they are highly absorbent and can increase to several times their regular size when soaked in water. This makes them highly suitable for many chia seed recipes.
Additionally, because they are larger, flax seeds won’t thicken as much as chia seeds, which is great if you’re looking to retain more of that linseed-flavor. You can get both coarse and fine flax seeds at most grocery stores and commercial outlets.
Best Substitute for a Rich Flavor: Oat Bran
Oat bran is also an excellent substitute for chia seeds. It is highly nutritious, being rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and even fiber. Oat bran is also great because it offers a distinct flavor from chia seeds. Instead of the mild taste, you get a rich, nutty, and semi-sweet taste. Its flavor also changes with cooking, but less so than chia seeds.
Oat bran is the outer layer of oat grain. When oat grains are processed, you get the kernel, called the oat groat, and the oat bran. Oat bran is closely related to oatmeal, as they come from the same whole grain. However, oat bran is more nutritious than oatmeal, and has a different taste and texture.
Oat bran is available in prepackaged bags in most grocery outlets and online stores. It can be used to prepare many of your favorite chia seed recipes, including pudding and baked goods.
Best Substitute for Nutrients: Quinoa
Quinoa is also a fantastic substitute for chia seeds, mainly because of its high nutritious content. Quinoa also has South American roots where the Incans called it the mother grain because of its tremendous dietary benefits. It is classified as a superfood, being rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Quinoa has a mild, almost imperceptible, flavor with a nutty texture when eaten on its own. But when cooked, it becomes crunchy, fluffy, and satisfying. It can also be cooked in several ways, including adding it as a side dish to the main meal or cooking it as part of the meal itself.
Quinoa is grown globally, but most of the world’s supply comes from countries like Bolivia and Peru. You can get quinoa at most grocery and health food stores. Like other grains, it is sold in bulk.
Best Substitute for Seed Lovers: Sesame and Hemp Seeds
Some other seeds are great chia substitutes, depending on the recipe you’re working with. For example, sesame seeds are great for foods like cooked veggies, salads, or toast. You can mix them with butter even for more texture.
Hemp seeds are also decent alternatives. And even though hemp seeds remind people of marijuana, they are from a completely different plant. They don’t deliver any of marijuana’s effects, and as a bonus, they are packed with proteins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. Hemp seeds go well with many chia seed recipes.
Best Substitute when there are No Alternatives: Psyllium Husks
In a pinch, psyllium husks can also be adequate substitutes. They are obtained from the outer coating of seeds from the Plantago Ovata plant, and like chia and flax seeds, psyllium seeds are rich in nutrients and fiber and are water-soluble.
Unfortunately, psyllium seeds won’t give you the traditional crunch associated with chia seeds.