Chia seeds are gluten-free and awesome.

I was skeptical, I admit. I started seeing the stuff floating around the Internet, read the superfood statistics, and did the responsible thing and dismissed it as overpriced, unnecessary, not-for-me.

Then, on a serendipitous trip to my local Latin grocery, I saw a small bag for $1, and picked it up on a whim. And now, I guess, I’m a chia-head.

worst toupee EVER.

No, not that kind of chia-head (although FYI, the seeds used in Chia Pets are exactly the same plant, but not regulated by the FDA).

So what is chia anyway, and why is it suddenly the hot new health thing?

Chia is native to parts of Mexico and central America, and has been cultivated for consumption since the time of the Aztecs. It’s notable because it’s high-fiber, low-carb, and because it packs a bigger omega-3 fatty acid protein punch than even flax seed. It’s also got plenty of iron, potassium and calcium.

But that’s not all, folks! Chia is also purported to encourage weight loss, thanks to a sneaky little trick the seeds have: soak them in liquid, and they turn into a tapioca-like gel that supposedly keeps you fuller, longer.

For those of us who are gluten-free and also sensitive to xanthum gum, I imagine chia’s a useful stabilizer in gluten-free recipes. After all, chia is beloved by vegans in no small part because chia-gel can be used as an egg-replacer when cooking.

The seeds don’t have much taste, and I’ve been eating them in the morning sprinkled on my yogurt (along with almonds and raisins and, when I’m feeling frisky, Cocoa Pebbles). You could also eat them raw or drop them into some juice or water; they take a little while to gel so it’s up to you to choose the texture you prefer.

I’ve been thinking about getting back into tapioca pudding, and when I do I’m going to add a couple tablespoons of chia seed to the mix – so stay tuned for a healthy, gluten-free pudding post. Until then – have any of you been experimenting with chia, and if so what did you think?

If you haven’t tried it and are looking for a source, Bob’s Red Mill sells chia, as do the Gluten-free Mall and Nuchia, who also carry gluten-free chia seed flour.