Indigenous Cooking: Chia Power Bars

Chia power bars
Chia power bars | Photo: Deborah Small

Watch our documentary Tending The Wild on KCET TV, February 7 at 9:00 p.m. 

We are the Chia Cafe Collective, a grassroots group of southern California tribal members and collaborators committed to the revitalization of Native foods, medicines, culture, and community. Our work honors the vast traditional knowledge and spiritual relationship to the land, and the nutritive and medicinal bounty the land offers us. Through workshops, classes, demonstrations, and native foods celebrations, we focus on ways to re-incorporate Native food plants into our daily diets to take back responsibility for our health and well-being. We hope our recipes can help you reconnect with the land through gathering, gardening, and cooking Native foods.

We promote an ethic of gathering and cultivating native plants in a manner that is sustainable, and we stress the importance of preserving native plants, plant communities, habitats, and the land for the future generations of all species.

I used to call this "chia candy," but I changed the name to Chia Power Bars because of the health benefits. I started adding unsweetened coconut, then the dried fruit, the different nuts. It came out to be like a chewy granola bar.

It's something you can take with you on a hike in a little baggie. It really boosts your energy level.

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1 lb chia seeds, toasted

24 oz organic agave syrup or honey (amount depends on what else you add)

coconut “powder”

Add some zest & chunk:

Toss in a variety of dried fruits and berries, like currants, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, or cherries.

Add toasted, chopped pine nuts and/or sunflowers seeds, walnuts, pecans, or almonds.

Remember that if you add a variety of items, it will extend the recipe and make a larger amount.

I find coconut powder in East Indian markets, Asian markets, or health food stores. It’s just coconut, finely chopped with no sugar added. I usually toast the coconut, as it brings out the flavor.

chia power bar preparation
Mixing and then forming the chia mixture | Photo: Deborah Small


First, toast the chia (careful not to burn) and whatever other zesty and chunky ingredients (coconut, pine nuts, etc.) and then set them aside. If you toast too long or the flame is too high, the chia seeds will start to pop.

Next, you’ll want to reduce the moisture content of your syrup or honey, concentrating its stickiness. Do this by pouring the syrup or honey into a small pot over medium heat, bringing it to a boil. Lower the heat and continue cooking, stirring constantly, being careful not to let it burn, until you achieve a moderate thickness. Test if it’s done by dropping a bit of this syrup into ice water. It should form a ball that stays firm and pliable but is still sticky between your fingers. It’s important not to let the syrup get too thick, or the balls/bars may become too hard when they cool and turn out like peanut brittle.

When the syrup reaches this “ball stage,” turn the heat off and pour the syrup over your dry ingredients, mixing everything together. Let the mixture cool slightly before the next step, since it will be easier to handle.

Balls or bars:

Balls: Roll into small, 1’’ or 1/2” balls. For an extra layer of fun, roll them in finely chopped coconut or dip them in bittersweet chocolate. The mixture is easier to handle if you periodically dip your fingers in water (but not too much water or the balls won’t keep their shape).

Bars: Spread the mixture evenly onto a wax-paper lined cookie sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Place a second layer of greased waxed paper over the mixture and flatten it into a solid block with an even thickness. When it cools you can score using a knife.


Store in the fridge if you are making your recipe a few days or a week ahead of time. Take out and bring to room temperature before eating. This recipe can be stored in the fridge or the freezer for months. I have made it on a few occasions when the mixture did not hold up well, but don’t ever think of tossing it out; it works great as a protein boost topping for yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothies. This energy food can be kept in a baggie or waxed paper and used for an exercise workout boost or other outdoor activities, like hiking.

This recipe is reprinted with permission from Cooking, Culture, Community: Cooking the Native Way by the Chia Cafe Collective. Banner: chia flowers. Credit: Djfrantic, some rights reserved


Co-produced by KCETLink and the Autry Museum of the American West, the Tending the Wild series is presented in association with the Autry's groundbreaking California Continued exhibition. 

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