Chia seeds might prove to be more useful than growing them in the terracotta, pet-shaped figurines. With the demand for healthier and more sustainable additives, switching from animal-derived products to coined "superfoods" like chia seeds might be helpful. According to a new study published in the Journal of Food Science, the oil that a chia seed produces could be a good source of gel — potentially replacing guar gum and gelatin, which are common binders in the food industry.

The researchers found that chia gel has good water-binding and oil-holding capacity, viscosity, emulsion activity, and a freeze-thaw ability that is comparable to guar gum and gelatin — two common current food ingredients used in baked goods and sauces, according to a news release.

Guar gum, the fiber from the seed of a guar plant, is in many gluten-free foods, and it’s used to thicken, stabilize, suspend, and bind different agents. In India, for thousands of years, guar beans have been harvested for cattle feed and humans. Doctors will sometimes prescribe gaur gum to alleviate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease because it can be used as a laxative. According to Live Science, guar gum decreases the body’s level of LDL, also known as bad cholesterol.

While guar beans in their natural state might be good for you, some health experts believe that when it’s over-processed, guar gum can reduce the amount of absorption of important vitamins and minerals in the body. However, none of these claims have been scientifically proven.

Gelatin on the other hand is animal-derived, so chia seeds would be a positive change for animal and vegetarian activists. It’s made from the hydrolysis of collagen obtained from animal protein, such as beef and pork. It’s found in foods like Jell-O and Twinkies, which can cause a problem for those who adhere to no beef or pork diets. By cutting out animal gelatin, the food industry would be able to reduce the negative effect on the animal industry.

Vegan gels are now made using agar, carrageen, or vegetable gum. There isn’t much information as to how the food industry would cook or use these on a broader scare. It might be beneficial though since chia seeds do offer a number of health benefits such as more protein, calcium, iron, and potassium. They can also last much longer than other gels and have a high antioxidant content.

However, more research and testing needs to be conducted before the food industry will allow their existing additives to be replaced.

Source: Coorey R, Tjoe A, Jayasena V. Gelling Properties of Chia Seed and Flour. Journal Of Food Science. 2014.