The Seedy Side of Muffins

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By Brooke Gazer

As any little bird might tell you seeds are high in nutrients. In addition to serving “pan dulces” (delicious Mexican pastries) for breakfast I like to offer healthy alternatives and seeds go a long way to enhance the quality of any bread basket. Not only do they punch up the food value but also add flavor and texture. Here are three of my favorites.

CHIA

Chia is a prehispanic food dating back to Mayan and Aztec cultures. It was domesticated in Mexico around 2,600 B.C. “Chia” means strength, and apparently these tiny black and white seeds were used throughout the empire as an energy booster. It was said the Aztec warriors subsisted on the chia seed and water during battle. These tiny seeds are a concentrated food stuffed with healthy omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, antioxidants, and calcium. In fact they have the highest sources of omega 3 and 6 of any plant source and you would need to eat 6 cups of popcorn to equal the amount of fiber in just 1 tablespoon of chia seeds.

A member of the mint family, the chia plant (Salvia Hispanica) originated in the central valley of Mexico. In an attempt to destroy Aztec culture, the Spaniards banned foods that were linked to the Aztec religion or tradition. They virtually wiped out the complex pre-hispanic agricultural system by substituting crops that were popular in Spain. During the Colonial period chia seed nearly disappeared and this may explain why it was not a crop developed commercially until recent years. You may recall the name “Chia” from that kitschy little ceramic pet sold in the 1980´s that grew a coat resembling alfalfa .

Chia seeds are an unprocessed, whole-grain food that can be absorbed by the body just as they are (unlike flaxseeds). The mild, nutty flavor makes them easy to add to foods and, beverages. They can be sprinkled on cereal, sauces, vegetables rice or yogurt. They can also be mixed into drinks and baked goods. In about an hour they can transform juice or milk into a gel and for this reason it took me a while to give them a try. I am not fond of goopy gelatin like custards or tapioca pudding. Surprisingly, these little seeds retain their crunchy texture in baking and since they look a lot like poppy seeds I use them as substitute. They are a better source of protein and fiber and poppy seeds are hard to find in Huatulco.

FLAX

Flax is also referred to as linseed and in Mexico it is called “Linaza” (Lin-a-za). It is possibly the oldest textile fiber used by humans, evidenced by 10,000 year old Turkish excavations and other archeological finds. The medicinal use of flax also dates back thousands of years. Ancient Romans, Greeks and Egyptians used flaxseed as anti-inflammatory agents as well as for gastro-intestinal issues. Apparently they were on to something … Among all commonly eaten foods researchers now rank flaxseeds as the #1 source of lignans in human diets. Flaxseeds contain about 7 times as many lignans as the closest runner-up (sesame seeds). For us lay people, lignans are powerful agents that help prevent cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis among other health benefits. Flax is high in fiber and with ten times the amount of Omega-3 as most fish oil capsules it is a great source of this essential nutrient.

Prior to1980 Mexico produced 4500 tons of flax. However the plant is quite sensitive to drought and in 1982 the yield fell by nearly 50%. Farmers began to substitute more reliable crops and production continued to decline until 1990 when flax crops in Mexico became almost nonexistent. Ironically, the price of flax began increasing just as production had virtually ceased. From 1990 to 2002 the price of flax seed rose from $800 to $10,000 pesos per ton. Today Canada cashes in on the popularity of flax with about 35% of the world’s flax seed production.

It is essential to know that flax seed is totally useless as a nutrient unless it is ground up. You can buy ground flax seed but it goes rancid quickly if not refrigerated. I buy it whole and use a small coffee grinder. It is cheaper and this way it keeps forever. Ground flax has a pleasant nutty taste and adds moisture, flavor and texture to baked goods in addition its nutritional benefits.

SESAME

In Mexico this seed is referred to as “Ajonjolí” (A-hon-HOLE-ly). Sesame is one of the world’s oldest condiments; archeological excavations throughout the Middle East revealed the use of sesame oil dating back to 3000 BC. In ancient Babylon women ate halva, a mixture of honey and sesame seeds, to prolong youth and beauty. Roman soldiers consumed it for strength and energy. Sesame is now found growing in most tropical and subtropical areas of the world including Mexico. The next time you stop at McDonalds for a burger, think of Mexico… about one-third of the crop exported by Mexico to the USA is purchased by McDonalds for their sesame seed buns (The Nut Factory 1999).

Sesame seed adds a rich nutty flavor to many dishes.   They are loaded with minerals; the iron content of sesame equals that of liver. Seeds are an excellent source of protein and a good source of fiber.

The following muffins are commonly served at our bed and breakfast. If you do not find chia at your local market you can order it on line, in Huatulco I buy it at FRUVER. Everything else is readily available everywhere.

Brooke Gazer operates a bed and breakfast in Huatulco, Agua Azul la Villa, www.bbaguaazul.com

Linseed Muffin

  • 1C flour
  • 1C linseed
  • 2TBS sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder*
  • 1tsp baking soda
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp ginger
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 3/4C milk
  • 1/4C oil
  • 1/4C molasses
  • 1TB lemon juice
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1tsp vanilla

Chia Orange Muffin

  • 2 C flour
  • 1/3C Chia seed
  • 1/3C sugar
  • 1tsp baking powder*
  • 1tsp baking soda
  • 1C milk
  • 1/4C oil
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 TB lemon juice
  • grated peel of 1 orange**
  • grated peel of 1 lemon**
  • 11/2 tsp orange extract

Banana Sesame Muffins

  • 2 C flour
  • 1/3 C sesame seed
  • 2 tsp baking powder*
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ C sugar
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1 mashed banana
  • Milk to make up the rest of the cup or just a bit more
  • 1TBS lemon juice
  • 1/4C oil
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1tsp vanilla

Mix dry ingredient

Mix wet ingredients

Make a well in flour mix and add wet to dry

Mix just enough to moisten everything

Spray baking tins and pour in mixture

Bake 350 F (200C) for 20-25 min

*For some reason I find that in Mexico I need to double the baking powder.

** If you let the wet mixture sit overnight the flavor will be more intense

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