About 11 years ago, I had a customer request a protein bar formulation with chia seed (EU) as a portion of the matrix. I thought the request was slightly odd at the time. Of course, I had no idea that in a little over a decade, chia would be a novel and unique ingredient used in many new products.
What is Chia?
This little powerhouse seed has come a long way from the chia planters that were once a fad gift during the winter holidays. In 2013, Mintel reported that 12% of new beverage launches included chia as an ingredient, compared to 0% in 2009.
Chia seed is an annual seed that has been consumed in southern Mexico and Central America for many centuries. It has a neutral flavor and contains more protein than most grains, as well as a high level of omega-3 fatty acids (EU), manganese (EU), phosphorus (EU), and dietary fiber (EU).
Additionally, chia has demonstrated some unique properties that may aid in your formulation and final product. Some of those properties include thickening, emulsifying, and stabilizing – multiple functions to consider if you wish to simplify your label.
- Chia seeds can absorb many times their weight in water and become gummy and viscous when added to a liquid. In addition to providing a unique texture in beverages when used as whole seeds, the milled seeds can be used as a bulking agent for powdered drink mixes and nutritional shakes or for thickening soups and sauces.
- Gluten free formulations can benefit from the thickening properties seen with chia seeds. They can be used to partially replace wheat flour (EU). They can also increase dough or batter viscosity in flour-based doughs, replacing modified food starch or other thickeners.
- Chia seeds are being used in egg replacement products. A newly released consumer product combines chia and garbanzo beans for a vegan egg replacer, which could be used in typical baking applications like pancakes, quick breads, and cookies. Consider using chia gel for breading applications when dredging products for frying.
- A study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shows that 25% of the oil in cakes can be replaced with chia gel with little significant sensory difference from the control.
- An article in the Journal of Food Research shows that chia can be used to improve the nutritional profile, as well as improve the processing tolerance, of rice/potato chips.
- Consider using chia seed when you need an ingredient similar to guar gum or gelatin.
Consider Cost, Recalls and Testing
- Review the cost of adding chia seeds to your formulation. The market for chia has become very competitive for consumer products, which could reflect a demand for chia in manufacturing. While the cost might be limiting, consider the nutritional impact of its addition to your product and determine if the improved nutrition and potential health claims outweigh the cost difference.
- While chia can offer some unique product attributes, you should review microbiological parameters and consider testing independently. Recent recalls of sprouted chia seed products by the FDA and Canadian Food Inspection Agency shed light on the need for vigilance in this area. Recall efforts are still ongoing.
- Finally, watch water activity levels, especially during shelf life testing, to assure stability over the product life cycle.
- In the EU, the EFSA approved chia as a novel food ingredient in certain foods, like baked products, breakfast cereals, and fruit, nut and seed mixes at a 10% level in 2013. Also allowed was prepackaged chia seed, with a requirement that the consumer be warned not to consume more than 15 grams per day.
- If formulating for a whole grain claim, keep in mind that chia does NOT qualify for whole grain status per the Whole Grains Council.
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