A 30% Chia, 70% Whole Wheat loaf
Ricardo Ayerza wrote the book on Salvia hispanica, "Chia: Rediscovering A Forgotten Crop of the Aztecs" commonly known as chia. He claims that (in addition to amaranth, beans and corn) chia was "one of the four main Aztec crops at the time of Columbus's arrival in the New World. Chia seed contains oil with the highest omega-3 fatty acid content available from plants. Today this species is practically unknown from a nutritional standpoint; instead, it is known only because of its use in Chia Pets."
The parts of Averza's book that I could read using Google Books detail the current problems of agriculture from popular perspectives that I was already aware of: (1) monocrop agriculture threatens economies and despite increased production it leaves many people unable to feed themselves, and threatens biodiversity (2) our evolution has left us with paleolithic hunter-gatherer dietary needs but poorer agricultural sources to obtain the nutrients (3) grains don't adequately supply our nutrients, being generally deficient in "vitamin A, vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium, sodium, omega-3 fatty acids, and amino acids such as lysine and threonine." His chapter on omega-3 fats is better, and more thorough, than whole (popular) books on the subject that I've read.
Unfortunately, the preview didn't allow me to read much on chia itself. However, the back cover says
• chia has the highest known percentage of alph-linolenic acid
• chia has more protein, lipids, energy and fibber - but fewer carbs - than rice, barley, oats, wheat or corn
• chia is an excellent source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc and copper
• chia is low in sodium: 78 times less sodium than salmon, 237 times less than tuna
• and, unlike some other sources of omega-3 fatty acid, chia doesn't give off a "fishy flavour"
Further info on chia can be found through the website of Dr. Wayne Coates (which you can take or leave: he sells chia products -- but that only proves that he believes in it. Averza and Coates have worked together on research into chia).
There is surprisingly little good information about chia online. Not nearly enough unbiased studies have been done on chia, although enough buzz is happening that this will no doubt soon be rectified. Take a look at the nutrition data available for chia seeds, at self nutrition data. Compared to other grains' amino acid profile, chia is a hands-down winner. It contains a lot of fat and fiber. More work needs to be done to determine the vitamin content. And of course, we know next to nothing yet about the cooked product and how it compares. And can we believe Coates without investigating thoroughly that the seed contains nothing that might harm us? We are still learning things about grains that we have used for thousands of years.
I did find a dissertation by Watchareewan Jamboonsri (2010) from Kentucky that gave me additional info on its growing habits and nutritional properties. Chia is not a grass, Jamboonsri tells us, but rather a member of the Labiateae or Lamiaceae family, from which we also get mint. It is believed to have originated in the highlands of western Mexico. It needs a lot of moisture to germinate, but is otherwise fairly drought-tolerant. Chia also takes a long time to produce seeds; and because it is killed by frost before mature seeds can form, it is generally grown mostly in tropical and subtropical climates.
Chia seed is a source of natural lipid antioxidants. Flavonol glycosides, cholorogenic acid and caffeic acid are found in chia extracts (Taga et al., 1984). The antioxidant activity of the fiber-rich fraction of chia flour was found to be higher than many cereals and similar to drinks such as wine, tea, coffee and orange juice (Vazquez et al., 2009). Chia seed coat is high in fiber which becomes mucilagenous and expands considerably when soaked in water. The fiber consists of xylose, glucose and glucuronic acid (Lin and Daniel, 1994). Vasquez et al. (2009) reported that the fiber-rich fraction of chia flour has 56.5 g/100 g total dietary fiber content. The fiber-rich fraction water- holding capacity is 15.4 g/g.
Chia seed contains about 20% protein. Chia protein digestibility was evaluated by Torres et al (2008). The digestibility was 79.8%, 34.2%, 29.1%, 24.3%, 10.9% in flour, toasted flour, raw seed, soaked seed, and toasted seed respectively. Chia flour was shown to have a low digestibility score which could be the influence of chia fiber. Chia oil content ranges from 28.5 - 32.7% (Ayerza and Coates, 2004; Ayerza and Coates, 2007). Chia is high in the omega-3 fatty acid, α-linolenic acid, 18:3. Chia diets dramatically decreased triacylglycerol levels and increased high density lipoprotein cholesterol and ω-3 fatty acid content in rat serum (Ayerza and Coates, 2005). Dietary chia seed also improves adiposity and insulin resistance in dyslipeamic rats (Chicco et al., 2009). Diets supplemented with chia have been found to decrease risks from some ypes of cadiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes. It has been reported that chia diet decreased the tumor weight and metastasis number and also inhibited growth and metastasis in a murine mammary gland adenocarcinoma (Espada et al., 2007). Long- term supplementation with chia attenuated a major cardiovascular risk factor and emerging factors safely beyond conventional therapy, while maintaining good glycemic and lipid control in people with well-controlled type 2 diabetes (Kreiter, 2005; Vuksan et al., 2007 and Vuksan et al., 2009). Omega-3 fatty acids are reported to have benefit in psychiatric disorders. A report showed that omega-3 fatty acids have significant benefit in prevention and/or treatment of unipolar and bipolar depression (Freeman, 2006).
For his doctorate, Jamboonsri was interested in mutating chia to shorten the time to flowering, and increase oil yield. That's life. We always want to change things before we fully understand them, don't we?
Credit due to RPH
RPH the baker in her blog "For the Loaf of Bread" has been using a lot of chia seeds in her loaves lately, and her loaves look very nice (this is a representative sample of her chia bread). Her notes about chia made me curious. I decided I wanted to try a Tartine-style wild yeast loaf with some ground chia, and mixed up a dough with 30% chia (shall I call ground chia "flour?") and 70% whole wheat. I wanted another trophy to add to my 30% grain sourdough breads that I've been experimenting with lately.
I've been adding 25-30% of different grains to whole wheat to see what sorts of loaves I might come up with. Along the way, I'm trying to educate myself about the properties and tastes of each grain. So far, I've tried the following grains, with varying degrees of success and failure:
- Millet (here and here)
- Amaranth/Millet (25%)
- Bean Flour
- Quinoa (this was 25%)
- Spelt (here and here)
- Barley/Buckwheat/Oat combination
(I've also made some 10% loaves with these ingredients separately)
- Rye (this one I make frequently)
|Ground chia. |
Chia seeds are black and white, and when ground they have the appearance of black and white pepper.
|70% hydration. All the flours have been added -- 300g of chia, 700g of whole wheat flour.|
|When I added the salt I added another 50g of water, bringing it to 75%, the normal hydration of a Tartine-style bread.|
|Alas, 75% hydration and the ball of dough is too dense to work. |
I added another 50g right away to make it 80% hydrated.
|Still too tight a ball, I had hoped kneading it for five minutes would help|
|But the dough is still far too tight to fold in the Tartine style|
|I added another 50g of water bringing it to 85%|
My Chia Loaf in the Tartine Style
Originally I was going to stop at 75% hydration, but the chia seemed to soak up the water to such a degree that I went to 80% hydration immediately upon adding the salt. This didn't help all that much, so after letting it rest a while, I tried kneading the dough for 5 minutes instead of simply folding it. When the wheat gluten didn't develop further length, I added another 50g of hydration, bringing the total hydration to 85%. Even then, the dough was simply too tight. I could now fold it a little, but it didn't seem to be developing any elasticity. I have never had such a high hydration dough feel quite this way. I bulk fermented it longer, and tugged away at it every 30 minutes diligently (as in the Tartine Bread method for wild starters), but the dough didn't want to stretch. I probably should have taken it to 90% hydration. At 85%, the best this dough ever felt while stretching it was 'lumpy'. This lumpiness was starting to dissipate when I finally gave up tugging on it.
The dough kept its shape when transferring it to the oven (well, the shape I was able to give it, which in one case wasn't too lovely), and I was able to score it a few times. As usual I had preheated the oven to 500 degrees for 30 minutes and now baked it at 450 degrees for 20 minutes lid on, and 20 minutes lid off.
The loaf was incredibly light weight, the crust so thin and flexible I wondered if the loaf had properly baked in my Dutch ovens. But it had.
Surprisingly springy crust:
|I love the look of this bread, which reminds me of a store-bought rye bread, but tastes nothing like it.|
And the taste was quite different. I'm not really certain I like it (I think I prefer rye's taste), but I don't dislike it either. It is rather like sliding into tepid, body-temperature water. You don't really notice it until you slide out again, and the air suddenly cools. So when your mouth is empty of chia bread, you think "oh, so that's what it tasted like." My loaf is predominately wheat, but underneath it is a scent, a hint, an afterthought of something earthen. Not mud, not soil: something whole and balanced, like the hint of strolling through a green meadow, clutching at a grass, sucking the living marrow of it, smelling the earth it grew in. There is something familiar about the taste, but I cannot for the life of me name it.
It is a versatile bread, full of promise, that I'm sure I'll make again. I really liked it untoasted with blue cheese.
Update on the taste:
I took some of this bread to work with some very thinly sliced old cheddar cheese on it, and I could have sworn that the taste was 'fishy'. Was it 'fishy' because I had read about the oils in it, and that was colouring my perception? No, it really had that scent about it, and it wasn't the cheese. It tasted fishy -- not in a heavy codfish-oil kind of way, but there was a scent of oil in the bread that reminded me of the air around a tidal seaside harbor town. It still tasted green, if I can describe a taste with colour, but now because of the scent-memory, this taste was more like saltfree freshwater-moistened seaweed. An interesting, even curious taste, but probably not a crowd-pleaser.
Notes to Myself
- Chia seeds ground into flour would be the best way to get the most of its omega-3 fats, which will likely oxidize quickly (although I did find an interview where Dr. Coates said that this is not as much a concern, as chia has natural anti-oxidants, unlike flax). Buying it already ground is going to be the worst way to get the best amount and quality of omega-3's, but it might be a heck of a lot easier than grinding it yourself. Coates suggests that the seeds alone are adequate to consume, that the coating is not as thick as flax, and we will still be able to metabolize the nutrients. I'm not convinced, however. Chia has a lot of fiber, and a lot of mucilage. Not much of it is actually digestible, and it is going to scour your bowel and soak up water just like it did when I added it to dough. For bread, I merely assume that ground chia is going to work better -- and that the nutrients will be more bio-available to us. But RPH has been using seeds directly in her loaves, and I'll likely try that too, sometime. I have some seeds, but probably not enough for 2 loaves.
- Try taking this dough to 90% hydration. Likely ground chia contains enough mucilage to hold even that amount of water together, and this will make it substantially easier to work.
- Try a loaf with unground seeds, to see what happens.
- If what Coates and Averza say about chia's nutrition is even half true, it does seem like a good idea to eat more of it.
- If the taste of this loaf bothers you, cut back on the amount of chia flour to 20% or even 10%. It really is healthy though, so the more you get the better off you'll be.