Robin Anish | The Table is Set: Chia seeds are the secret ingredient in this sugar-free jam

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Remember Chia Pets and the catchy little jingle "Cha-ch ch-chia"?

Chia Pets are terra cotta figurines that you spread with chia seeds and quickly sprouted, looking like green hair on a head or fur on an animal introduced in the late '70s. Surprisingly, they are still in production and more surprisingly, and gratefully, I have never received a Chia pet for Christmas!

Now, it may not sound appetizing at the moment; but, those same tiny chia seeds used to sprout hair on a terra cotta figure head that looks an awful lot like Bob Ross, are edible.

Chia seeds have been rapidly gaining in popularity. Now considered a "super food", the seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acid, fiber, protein, iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.

The most unique characteristic of chia seeds is that they can expand to hold about 10 times their dry weight in liquid. When they absorb liquid, the seeds swell into gel-like globules which, for culinary purposes, means they can be used as a thickening agent used to make puddings, drinks; and, best of all, sugar-free jam.

Jams are made from fruit and a lot of sugar. The sugar is what thickens jam, but when seasonal fruits are so fresh and delicious, it is almost a shame to overpower the flavor with so much sugar. Of course, high amounts of sugar aren't exactly healthy.

With the ability of chia seeds to absorb liquid and thicken the fruit juices to spreading consistency, additional sugar is only needed to sweeten the jam to your taste. Sugar can even be eliminated if the fruit is flavorful enough.

For best results, use fruit that are perfectly ripe, sweet and juicy, such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, or peaches.

Here's the basic recipe:

SUGAR-FREE JAM

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INGREDIENTS:

2 cups fresh or frozen fruit

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons chia seeds

1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice

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1 to 2 tablespoons sweetener of choice

DIRECTIONS:

Put fruit into a small saucepan, add water and place over medium high heat. Use a fork to stir and mash fruit as it comes to a boil. Boil for a 2 to 3 minutes while stirring until juices reduce a bit. Remove from heat and add chia seeds, lemon juice and sweetener to taste. If desired, you can skip the sweetener. Let cool.The jam will thicken as it cools. Transfer to a container and refrigerate.

Because of the limited amount of sugar, the jam should be kept refrigerated and eaten within 2 weeks. It freezes well.

Use some of the jam to make these almost-sugar-free popsicles.

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ALMOST SUGAR-FREE POPSICLES

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup chia seed jam

3/4 cup coconut water

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup fresh fruit

Ice-pop molds

DIRECTIONS:

Puree jam, coconut water, lime juice, and salt in a blender until smooth. Add fresh fruit and pulse just to break up some of the fruit. Pour into ice-pop molds, insert sticks and freeze until solid.


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