Can you eat expired chia seeds?

In this article, we will answer the question “Can you eat expired chia seeds?”, and how to tell if the chia seeds have gone bad?

Can you eat expired chia seeds?

Yes, you can eat expired chia seeds as long as they were stored correctly. Inspect the expired chia seeds for microbial contamination before you use them for cooking. 

Expired chia seeds are not necessarily spoiled but their nutritional profile is poor in comparison to the fresh seeds.

In dry food products, microbial growth is reduced due to low water content, and chemical changes not induced by microbial or naturally occurring enzymes may occur. These changes usually involve O2, light and other than microbial spoilage, are the most common cause of spoilage e.g. oxidative rancidity of fats and oils (2).

South America alone produces approximately 80% of the world’s chia seed supply. The top chia seed producers are Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina (1).

How long do chia seeds last?

Thanks to the antioxidants, chia seeds have a long shelf life. Chia seeds usually come with a best-before date, which is only an estimate for how long the seeds will keep in their prime. 

Depending on the market value, chia seeds can be stored for long periods, often without adequate control of storage conditions, producing the aging of the seed. Aging is a complex process that could lead to diverse changes in chia seeds, including modifications in taste, flavor, fatty acid composition, protein, phenolic compounds and carbohydrates. Storage conditions such as relative humidity and temperature are the most important factors that can cause important variations in seed quality during storage time, especially in tropical and subtropical regions (e.g. Brazil) (3).

Depending on the storage conditions, i.e., temperature, humidity, presence of oxygen and light, the shelf life of chia seeds and chia products may vary. When stored in a cool, dry and safe environment from light and air, chia seeds can be safely stored for 4-5 years (4).

Opened/Unopened Pantry Fridge/Freezer 
Chia seeds 2+ years 4+ years 
Chia meal 2-4 weeks 1-2 years 
Chia gel 2 hours 2-3 weeks 
Chia flour 6 months Unsafe 

How to tell if the chia seeds have gone bad?

Microbial deterioration of food is evidenced by alteration in the appearance (color changes, pockets of gas/ swelling), texture (soft & mushy), color, odor, and flavor or slime formation (2).

Smell: Rancidification comes with a very distinct smell that hardly goes unnoticed. Due to the unpleasant smell of the rancid chia seeds, you don’t want to use them. Although rancid chia seeds have a poor nutritional profile, they are still safe to eat. The level of hydrolytic rancidity tends to increase at higher moisture contents and with longer storage periods (5).

Lumping: When the chia seeds start sticking to each other or the bottom and walls of the container, they should be discarded. Mold activity in binned seed products can result in clumping and aggregation of grains in localized areas, formation of bridges of material across the top or within the bin contents, or adherence of material to bin walls (5).

Slimy/Sticky: Fresh chia seeds never feel slimy or sticky when you touch them. If they feel either sticky or slimy upon touching, they have gone bad. Molding and heating can occur exceedingly quickly in moist seed, and where this happens the seeds are likely to stick together (5).

Pantry bugs: Good news! Pantry bugs cannot infest the chia seeds. So if there aren’t many bugs, you can save your chia seeds by freezing them for 2-3 days and then removing the bugs after thawing. If there are too many bugs, it is better to buy a new package of chia seeds. Insect activity is considerably reduced below 15.6°C (5). 

Taste: If the taste of the chia seeds deviates from their regular neutral and mild taste, they have gone bad. Lipid oxidation reactions and changes in carbohydrates and phenolic compounds may cause changes in the taste of the chia seeds (3).

Mold: Frequent exposure to moisture is what triggers the growth of mold in the chia seeds. So, if you see discolored fuzzy spots growing in between the chia seeds, throw the seeds in the bin. Biological organisms that cause stored products to deteriorate require different levels of relative humidity for normal development. Generally, the level for bacteria is above 90%, for spoilage molds it is above 70%, and for storage mites it is above 60%. The levels required for insect development range from 30% to 50% (5).

How to store chia seeds?

Here are some useful tips you should follow if you want your chia seeds to last long.

Choose the correct container 

Say no to the plastic or cardboard containers. Invest in a good mason or glass jar if you are a regular user of chia seeds. 

Glass is better at protecting the seeds against spoilage. The bonus point is the transparency of the glass. So, you can always keep an eye on the health of your chia seeds.

Avoid scooping the seeds

Never insert a spoon inside the container of the chia seeds. The spoon may carry unwanted particles or bacteria that will contaminate a whole lot of chia seeds. Food may be infected through improper handling (2).

Instead, tilt the jar and pour the seeds either directly into the cooking pot/cereal bowl or into a measuring spoon.

Use air-tight containers 

If you keep the seeds in the fridge or freezer, make sure the containers are ait-tight and resealable(if using freezer bags). 

If you keep the seeds in the mason jar, block the air by tightly closing the jar lid. This small step goes a long way by protecting the seeds against fungus, pantry bugs, and rancidification.

Seeds stored under adequate conditions of temperature and relative air humidity maintain their physiological potential, which reduces the respiratory activity and decreases the deterioration process (6).

Regular inspection 

Regular inspection is very crucial to take the right measures at the right time so that the spoilage can be prevented or delayed. 

Crush 1 tsp or two of chia seeds in a mortar or pestle to check for spoilage. Chia seeds that are at the brink of going rancid can be saved by freezing them immediately. 

Use foil for extra protection 

Wrap the chia seed container with foil or cover the mouth of the container with it. This bonus measure will help further the shelf-life of the chia seeds.

What happens if I consume expired chia seeds?

Chia seeds are pretty shelf-stable and last long past their said expiration date. However, if you consume a sufficient amount of bad-tasting chia seeds, it may upset your stomach. Eating rancid seeds can cause digestion problems and other health problems, because lipid oxidation generates potentially toxic products that have shown correlation with inflammatory diseases, as well as cancer, atherosclerosis and aging (8).

Moreover, consuming more than 1 tsp of chia seeds on daily basis is linked with gastrointestinal problems, blood thinning, and lower blood pressure.

People allergic to mint should avoid eating chia seeds. Both the mint and chia seeds are due to a similar allergic reaction (7). 

Symptoms of the allergic reaction include swelling, watery eyes, runny nose, and breathing problems, and vary with the severity of the reaction.

Other FAQs about Chia seeds that you may be interested in.

Do chia seeds expire?

Where to buy chia seeds in store

How to store chia seeds?

Conclusion

In this article, we answered the question “Can you eat expired chia seeds?”, and how to tell if the chia seeds have gone bad?

References

  1. Peña-Lévano, Luis, Colton Adams, and Shaheer Burney. Latin America’s Superfood Economy: Producing and Marketing Açaí, Chia Seeds, and Maca Root. Choices 2021, 35, 145.
  2. Dilbaghi, Neeraj, and S. Sharma. Food spoilage, food infections and intoxications caused by microorganisms and methods for their detection. 2007.
  3. Cruz-Tirado, J. P., et al. Shelf life estimation and kinetic degradation modeling of chia seeds (Salvia hispanica) using principal component analysis based on NIR-hyperspectral imaging. Food Control, 2021, 123, 107777.
  4. Chia Seeds. The Nutrition Source. 2021. University of Harvard.
  5. Mills, John T. Spoilage and heating of stored agricultural products. Prevention, detection and control. Minister of Supply and Services, 1989.
  6. de Mattos Sorana, Claudia Kely Pires, et al. Chia Seeds Storage in Different Environmental Conditions and Packages. Am J Plant Sci, 2018, 9, 74.
  7. García Jiménez, S., et al. Allergen characterization of chia seeds (Salvia hispanica), a new allergenic food. J. investig. allergol. clin. immunol, 2015, 55-56.
  8. Vieira, Samantha A., Guodong Zhang, and Eric A. Decker. Biological implications of lipid oxidation products. J. Am. Oil Chem.’ Soc., 2017, 94, 339-351.