Is the new IT superfood invading Mumbai's menus worth the price?

Aug 02, 2015, 08:00 IST | Phorum Dalal

A superfood from the West is infiltrating city menus. But is it worth sidelining local alternatives for?

Chef Aditi Keni at Hungry Traveller Café at Khar multimedia centre, the Hive, is making a noodle salad. In a mixing bowl go blanched noodles, slender strips of bell pepper, a spoonful of black sesame seeds, a spurt of olive oil and some lemon juice. For the final flourish, she dips into a bowl of tiny seeds in golden, brown and black. “This is the current favourite superfood,” she says, sprinkling them over the noodles that will rest on a plate of arugula leaves.


Meet chia seeds, the far-off cousin of sabja (or basil seeds), an ingredient synonymous with the falooda. Often confused for each other because they soak water and form a gelatinous coating, chia and sabja vary in nutritional content and benefits, says Keni, who had to create a breakfast parfait with chia as main ingredient on customer demand. “Packed with Omega 3, iron, vitamin B and D, phosphorus and protein, chia are energy boosters. Sabja, on the other hand, are useful for their cooling properties.” Keni loves that they are tasteless. “Mix them with anything and you have a healthy meal ready, even for fussy kids,” she says.

Grown across South Africa, South America, Mexico, Guatemala and Australia, the superfood is readily available across the city, but at prices that sometimes hit Rs 2,800 a kilo.

Anjali Peswani, nutritionist and food consultant, lets her patients choose between chia and flaxseeds.

“No doubt, the former is richer in nutrients, but locally sourced alternatives like flax and black sesame seeds work just as well. The West tends to hype its foods to another level.” Its nutrient kick means that chia should be consumed in moderation.

Outsider seed
Kurush Dalal agrees with Peswani, shunning the attention chia is getting. “Anything that is popular abroad, Indians will ape. We have enough and more varieties of local produce that is just as beneficial.

Aditi Keni makes noodle salad at Hungry Traveller Café at The Hive, in Khar West. pics/tushar satam
Aditi Keni makes noodle salad at Hungry Traveller Café at The Hive, in Khar West. Pics/Tushar Satam

“Bair (bore) are packed with Omega 3, but who wants to have a berry? We would rather spend thrice the money on chia.”
And yet, food start-ups are continuing to turn to the ‘foreign hand’ to entice customers. Anuj Rakyan, founder of RAW Pressery, an outfit that delivers cold-pressed juices and cleanses to the doorstep, rates RUN (pineapple, pear and chia) and LOVE (pomegranate, watermelon, chia and mint) as their top-selling juices.

Basil seeds and chia seeds belong to the mint family. While basil have cooling properties, chia  are energy boosters

“Sabja belong to the same mint family but don’t qualify as a nutritional ‘superfood’. Chia are a natural energy booster, loaded with anti-oxidants. Rich in fibre, they keep you satiated and help with weight control,” he says, adding that they are high in protein too — about 14 per cent by weight. Two tablespoons of chia contain 18 per cent of the DRI (dietary reference intakes) for calcium, 35 per cent for phosphorus, 24 per cent for magnesium and 50 per cent for manganese.

Kurush Dalal
Kurush Dalal

It’s a difference not everyone is familiar with. For a long time, Ayushi Shah of Kemps Corner patisserie Icing on Top, mistook basil seeds for chia when adding them to her passion fruit tarts. “When used in dessert, the texture feels the same, although chia retains its crunch,” explains Shah.

Passion fruit and basil seed tart at  Icing on Top
Passion fruit and basil seed tart at  Icing on Top

In demand
While health-conscious Mumbaikars had to earlier source the ingredient from abroad, chia seeds became commercially popular in late 2014. Anuradha Sawhney, who runs the Pune bakery, Vegan Kitchen, turns to the ingredient when making gluten-free bread and pizza base. “I use them instead of eggs to act as a binder. Unlike sabja, Chia can be used in dry powder form too. If I ever feel there’s too much water in my dough, I add a bit of the powder to soak in the moisture.”

Karishma Dalal
Karishma Dalal

Karishma Dalal, co-founder of Bandra’s Bombay Salad Company, introduced chia into her menu seven months ago.

“Their texture is beautiful. Since they carry a distinct taste, they can be used in savoury and sweet dishes. We use it as topping on our salads to pack in a crunch. And yes, our oat and chia pudding with cashew milk is a hit,” says Shah of the dish she serves with honey and fruit.

For its forthcoming wellness menu, Foodhall, a gourmet store at Palladium Mall, has planned to hawk a chia seed pudding and gluten-free granola of cereal, oats, dried fruit, seeds and honey as well as a blueberry chia seeds granola.

“We’ve even created a vanilla chai chia pudding and a chocolate raspberry chia pudding,” says Swati Agarwal, food strategy, regional head for North Zone, Foodhall.

What next?
The global buzz around chia kicked off in 2012. According to Pooja Dhingra, owner of Le 15 Patisserie, it’s now a common ingredient. Dhingra uses it in products from her healthy dessert line, Jump. Fudge balls, raw brownie, cakes and granola bars, all carry chia. But she gives a word of caution.

It is interesting that the US, where the craze first kicked off, has moved on to hemp or cannabis sativa. “It is edible marijuana, and consumed as oil or seeds in milk. I wonder when that wave will hit India,” says Keni.

Four chia dishes that are must-trys

Strawberry and chia slush at Sassy Spoon in Bandra West and Nariman PointStrawberry and chia slush at Sassy Spoon in Bandra West and Nariman Point

Chia seed pudding by Marissa Bronfman
Chia seed pudding by Marissa Bronfman.

Raw brownies at Le 15 Patisserie outlets
Raw brownies at Le 15 Patisserie outlets

Oat chia pudding and chipster salad by Karishma Dalal of Bombay Salad Co., Bandra West. Pics/Tushar Satam
Oat chia pudding and chipster salad by Karishma Dalal of Bombay Salad Co., Bandra West. Pics/Tushar Satam

Food fact: Native to South America and South Africa, chia seeds were once an important food for the Aztecs and Mayans

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