The answer: Chia seeds. Chia-centric brand Mamma Chia recently launched a (you guessed it) Unsweetened Chiamilk in two flavors: original and vanilla ($4.99 each). "It was truly eight years in the making," the brand's CEO Janie Hoffman says. "It's been a dream of mine for that long." Now that the chia milk finally has the taste and nutritional profile Hoffman was aiming for, it's on the market and ready to drink. Here, she shares more about what exactly is in the drink and a registered dietitian weighs in on how healthy it really is. Plus, the verdict on how it tastes. (You know you want to know.)
What is chia milk, anyway?
Curious about what goes into the making of chia milk? Here's a run-down of what's in the product (which is organic and GMO-free): coconut milk, chia oil, chia protein, pea protein, calcium carbonate, guar gum, sunflower lecithin, natural flavor, vanilla extract, gellan gum, vitamin A, vitamin D2, and vitamin B12.
Wait, is that coconut milk on the ingredients list? Isn't this chia milk? Well yes, in the sense that coconut milk is the base into which the other ingredients, including chia oil and protein, are blended to make a new product. Plus, coconut milk itself offers omega-3s and other beneficial compounds, while having a similar consistency to dairy milk. "Coconut milk definitely brings more to the party," she says. Plus, it doesn't require any sugar, a point that Hoffman is particularly proud of. "Even cow's milk has [naturally occurring] sugar, and we were able to create an alternative that has a mouthfeel and taste that competes with that while having absolutely zero sugar," she says.
Of course, the differentiating factor for this new alternative milk is still the chia, a seed known for being a nutritional powerhouse in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, iron, and calcium. But the question remains, are you still reaping these benefits from the milked seed as you would eating them whole?
Speaking of non-dairy milks, here are how some of the most common (oat, almond, soy, oh my!) compare nutritionally:
Is chia milk healthy?
Registered dietitian Rachel Swanson, RD, says there are some definitely benefits to this new chia milk. She likes that it's fortified with calcium and vitamins A, D, and B12, to mimic the nutrients in dairy milk. Considering these ingredients along with the coconut milk, pea protein, chia oil, and chia protein, Swanson says nutritionally, it's comparable to dairy milk. She's also into the high omega-3 content (800 milligrams per serving), which she says is from both the chia and the coconut milk. But Swanson says that while the chia milk has some similar benefits to cow's milk, it's not at all comparable to consuming chia seeds in their whole form.
"We don't consume almond milk for the benefits of almonds, and this is similar in that sense," she says. "If you want to get the benefits of chia seeds, my [nutritional] advice would be to buy whole chia seeds and consume them in a smoothie or pudding and not consume them as a milk." This is because, she explains, a two-tablespoon serving of chia seeds has nine grams of fiber and five grams of protein, while the chia milk has one gram of fiber and two grams of protein per serving.
There is one benefit of getting the benefits of the chia in milk form as opposed to the seed, though: it's less likely to cause bloating for those who aren't used to consuming a lot of fiber all at once. "Chia seeds can cause bloating because they soak up water [in the intestines], but water is the first ingredient in this product, so it very likely won't make it an issue," she says.
What does chia milk taste like?
Okay, so nutritionally there is a lot to benefit from through consuming chia milk, but unless it actually tastes good, it's a moot point, right? (Or, ahem, a moo point.) Hoffman instructed me to try both products, starting with the vanilla and ending with the unsweetened original, so I conducted my taste test of one following her advice.
First, the vanilla. The consistency is definitely spot on; the mouthfeel truly is closer to cow's milk than even oat milk, my typical go-to. My glass even had those little milky bubbles on top. I was surprised by the taste, too—in a good way. It definitely didn't taste like ground-up chia seeds, and I was impressed that it was so sweet without any sugar being added in. The vanilla flavor is fairly strong, so I don't think I would use it to cook (say, as a substitute for milk when making mac-and-cheese), but I could see it being used in a smoothie or to sweeten up a cup of coffee.
Next, the unflavored original. The consistency of this one was pretty thick, definitely thicker than the oat or almond milk that I'm used to. As far as the taste goes, the coconut milk flavor really comes out strong. If you're into coconut milk, this could be a good alternative milk for you as it's a very similar taste and consistency with the added nutritional benefits of the chia oil and chia protein.
Hoffman's hope is for this new chia milk to live in the fridge alongside the milks that are already healthy eaters' favorites. "Nearly 50 percent of consumers, and perhaps more, buying non-dairy milk frequently purchase more than one type," she says, pointing to a stat showing consumers are buying more dairy and non-dairy options. Now you have just one more to consider.
Another alt-milk you might not have heard of: banana milk. Plus, see how mainstream dairy companies are responding to the rise in alternative milks.
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