A few months ago, a friend was asking around for chia pudding recipes “that don’t taste like hell.”
“All chia pudding recipes taste like hell,” I said. You see, I was bitter.
I was bitter because I’d spent years trying to create the supposed magic of chia pudding. Maybe you’ve heard of it: chia seeds combine with liquid to create some sort of miracle elixir that will make your live forever and tastes like rainbows and unicorns, or something like that. I tried some recipes, and I tried to create my own, including concoctions like peppermint extract and chia seeds in plain Greek yogurt (don’t try that one), and I ended up with chia puddings ranging from thick and slimy to watery and seedy, some without any flavor and others with absolutely the WRONG flavor. I wanted to enjoy that creamy, delicious, nutritious overnight breakfast about which health food enthusiasts rave. And I wanted to taste unicorns, and live forever.
The problem is that chia pudding has a particular texture, and the seeds have a particular flavor, and if you don’t account for those two things when you create a dish that’s supposed to approximate pudding, you’re going to end up with the unpalatable sludge that chia pudding skeptics are so sure is the only form of the substance.
Finally, after much searching, I found a few recipes I could get behind. I learned that it’s all about the ratio of liquid to seeds, and the other ingredients you add to alter (read: improve) the texture. If you add chia seeds to pure liquid (like milk or milk alternatives), the creaminess isn’t quite there, and I don’t usually find those versions rich enough. You could use yogurt, but then you’re contending with its naturally tart flavor. And that’s fine, if it’s what you’re going for. But I wanted to figure out how to make chia pudding work with any kind of liquid, and I wanted to work with its natural texture instead of pushing against it. I’ve seen the suggestion to just blend the finished product in a high-speed blender to smooth out the seeds, but in my experience, that just turns the pudding extra slimy and gives it a viscous quality that turns me off. It also breaks open the seeds to expose their natural flavor more, and I’m not a fan.
The recipes I like use fruit to 1) flavor 2) sweeten, and 3) improve the texture of chia puddings. Fruit, pureed or not, thickens it up and helps disguise the seeds’ flavor. The addition of other ingredients and textures helps make the whole bowl more palatable.
The version I ate for breakfast today is made with apples, pomegranate, and dark chocolate (because why not?). I wanted to take advantage of some fall flavors, and while pomegranates aren’t quite in season yet, I’m practicing for when the local farmer’s markets are filled with them and their ruby goodness. Caramelizing the apples also helps highlight their sweetness, which means we don’t need to add as much sweetener. You could use honey, but I really like the flavor of maple syrup with the other apples, pomegranate, and chocolate.
Vanilla bean, caramelized apples, pomegranate, and dark chocolate. This chia pudding is, to quote my sister circa 2003, “the bomb.” And I promise, it doesn’t taste like hell.
Chia pudding with caramelized apples, vanilla bean, pomegranate seeds, and dark chocolate. Healthy enough for breakfast, decadent enough for dessert.
- 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 2 apples, cored and thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon chia seeds
- 2 teaspoons maple syrup
- 1 inch scraped vanilla bean (or 1/2 teaspoon extract)
- pomegranate arils and chopped dark chocolate for topping
- drizzle of coconut oil or butter for cooking apples
- optional: additional maple syrup for topping
The night before, mix the 3 tablespoons of chia seeds, almond milk, vanilla bean or extract, and maple syrup in a jar or container with a lid. Stir well and refrigerate until morning.
In the morning, add the last teaspoon of seeds to the pudding and combine really well. This step is important because it absorbs the leftover liquid, really improving the texture of the pudding.
In the morning, prepare the apples. Heat the coconut oil or butter on low in a skillet and add the apples, stirring often to caramelize (like caramelizing onions). If they begin to burn or brown before breaking down, lower the heat. When they're soft and mostly broken down (about 20 minutes), they're done.
When apples are cooked, remove chia pudding from the fridge and stir in half of the apples until combined.
Place chia pudding and apple mixture into the bowl you plan to serve in and top with the remaining apples, pomegranate arils, and dark chocolate, along with extra maple syrup if desired.