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What is the difference between chai and chia?


Image with text reading "What is the difference between chai & chia?" with two dishes of each ingredient side-by-side.

I attend a few markets every month to sell our chai. Without fail, at least once every market I get asked, “Are these chia seeds?”

 

I understand where the confusion lies. Chia and Chai both have four letters, contain the same letters and even sound similar, but they couldn’t be more different from each other.

 

What is the difference between chai and chia?

 

Chai is a drink which combines spices, tea, ginger and a sweetener like honey. Chia on the other hand is a seed with a mild, nutty flavour and is often eaten in porridge, smoothies and other baked goods.

 

I can remember once at a market, a lady picked up one of our display glass jars with chai in it, lifted up a small amount and ate it! I had to quickly explain that chai should not be eaten and that it wasn’t chia seeds.

 

This post I hope will avoid any further confusion.

 

What is Chai?

 

Chai, which simply means ‘tea’ in the Hindi language. It goes by a few names including masala chai, chai latte and spiced tea. The most common name used is ‘chai’ when being ordered in coffee shops in the United Kingdom, America and Europe. This drink is adored by many as a chest-warming beverage and has been adopted by most coffee shops.

 

Chai latte beside autumnal leaves and pumpkins.

Chai can be used as a powder, syrup concentrate or (my favourite) as an authentic chai made from loose-leaf tea and whole spices. The quality varies as do the health benefits and sugar quantity. So, it is always worth finding out what your local coffee shop uses. You can read more about the different chai types here.

 

Key takeaway points about chai:

 

1.     Chai means ‘tea’ in Hindi.

2.     In the West, chai commonly refers to a milky spiced tea.

3.     Chai originates in India.

4.     The base of chai is often a black tea such as an Assam with a combination of spices and ginger

 

What is Chia?

 

Chia on the other hand, is a small seed originating from South America and is regarded as a ‘superfood’. It is harvested from the salvia hispanica plant and in recent years, chia seeds have gained popularity in the fitness and health space due to the reported health benefits these tiny seeds offer.

 

Chia seeds were a staple in the diet of the Aztecs and Mayans of South America (modern-day Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize). These seeds are packed with essential nutrients and carbohydrates such as manganese, phosphorus, copper, selenium, iron, magnesium, calcium [1] and fibre.  


A glass jar with yoghurt, chia seeds, mang chunks and some mint to garnish.

Chia seeds are often incorporated into smoothies, yoghurt, and porridge. They can also be used as a substitute in vegan baking.

 

Key Points to Highlight:

 

1. Chia is a seed, not a beverage.

2. It is harvested from the salvia hispanica plant.

3. A staple in the diet of Aztecs and Mayans.

4. Nutrient-rich with essential nutrients, fibre, protein, antioxidants.

 

The main differences between chia seeds and chai

 

1. Nature of the product

 

  • Chai can be made with either water or milk. In its traditional form, chai is made with tea, spices, lots of milk and a sweetener. This creates a really rich and deeply flavoured spiced tea. However, chai can also be made with water to create a dark, spiced tea which can be enjoyed black or with the addition of milk.


A dark chai with a whole star anise floating in it beside a cinnamon stick on the table.

  • Chia seeds can be used in a multitude of ways. My favourite way to eat them is in porridge. They add a lovely nutty flavour and a tablespoon of chia goes a long way. Other ways to enjoy chia seeds are in a smoothie or baked cookies.

 

2. Ingredients in chia and chai

 

  • Chai traditionally consists of black tea, spices (cinnamon, cloves, star anise, black peppercorn etc.), ginger and sugar/honey. This combination can vary depending on where it is being enjoyed but generally, the spices remain the same.


Two bowls of porridge topped with berry yoghurt, berries, oats and chia seeds

  • Chia seeds tend to be sold as they are. They make a great addition to other staple foods which adds the nutrients that they contain.            

 

3. Using chai and chia in the kitchen

 

  • Chai can be used in many different ways to add flavour and depth to meals. A few ways of incorporating chai into your diet include chai-infused sourdough, chai-flavoured cakes and iced chai for those hotter days.

 

  • Chia seeds can be added to porridge, salads, yoghurts and are also used as a thickening agent in recipes.

 

There are many recipes online which incorporate these ingredients, I have included a few of my favourites below:

 

 

 

Benefits and Uses of Chai:

 

Chai not only has a stunningly unique flavour, it also boasts several health benefits.


1. Antioxidant Properties:

 

Several ingredients in chai, such as tea, cloves and cinnamon, are rich in antioxidants, which have been shown in dozens of scientific studies to help protect the body against free radicals. [2]. (.)

 

2. Digestive Aid:

 

In India, chai has been used as a post-meal digestive aid for centuries. Ingredients like ginger and black pepper corn help to produce hydrochloric acid which has been shown to improve digestion and gut health. [3].


Cup of chai beside honey and cinnamon sticks

 

3. Energy Boost:

 

Tea, which is the main ingredient of chai, contains tiredness-busting caffeine. Caffeine provides a natural energy boost and helps to keep tiredness at bay. So if you have study sessions coming up, chai may be the perfect option for you. [4]


For more on the caffeine levels in chai, see our blog post exploring the caffeine content of chai.

 

4. HelpS with nausea:

 

Ingredients like ginger are known to help aid with nausea. Those who experience morning or travel sickness often report an improvement in how they feel when they consume ginger. [5].


Benefits and Uses of Chia Seeds:

 

Chia seeds, with their mild, nutty flavour, offer an array of health benefits.

 

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

 

Chia seeds are an excellent plant-based source of omega-3. With just 28 grams of chia seeds providing 5,000mg of omega-3 and massively exceeding your daily recommended. Omega-3 helps in promoting heart health and reducing inflammation in the body. [6].

 


Bowls of fruit, porridge, chia seeds and berries on a pink molted background.

 

2. High Fiber Content:

 

Chia seeds are a great source of fibre. Fibre contributes to a healthy digestive system, helps to make you feel fuller for longer and as a result, reduces sugar cravings during the day. [7]

 

3. Protein-Rich:

 

According to the USDA, Chia seeds are a source of plant-based protein with 18g of protein per 100g of chia seeds. This makes them worth adding to your diet if you are trying to up your protein intake, especially for vegetarian and vegan diets. [8]

 

4. Versatility in Cooking:

 

With chia seeds being so versatile, they make a great addition to many dishes. From trail mixes to breakfast toppers, chia seeds are a fantastic way to swap out some less healthy ingredients for this superfood.


Six glasses of chia seed infused yoghurt with berries and mango.

 

Conclusion:

 

Whether you are sipping on a chest-warming cup of chai or adding nutrient-rich chia seeds into meals, both have a place in a well-balanced and healthy diet.

 

While these two highly valued food names may sound and look similar, you will have by now hopefully seen that they are very different items. By understanding the differences, you will be able to embrace the unique benefits both of these wonderful items bring to a healthy diet.

 

If you would like to explore the world of chai further, you can read more of our blog posts here. If you have any questions, I would love for you to get in touch by contacting me at info@chalachai.com.


And remember,

Life’s too short to drink bad chai! Andrew McGuire

Chief Chai Maker

Chala Chai

 

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ANDREW MCGUIRE

CHALA FOUNDER & CHAI EDUCATOR

Hello there!

If you want to learn more about chai, you have come to the right place!

 

With chai continuing to grow in popularity, there are lots of questions to be answered.

In my blog posts, I answer the questions that I receive daily from customers and those who come across Chala at markets or online.

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