Easy Chocolate Chia Crumble Topping

by Gena on January 20, 2012

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The other day, I caught myself sprinkling a tablespoon of ground flaxseed onto a warm and bowl of morning oats and fruit. This is force of habit as much as anything else: I’m simply very accustomed to putting flax into my oats as they cook, or sprinkling it upon them after. As soon as I did, I thought, “why?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love flax. I do. I put it in everything, from smoothies to my plentiful raw breads and crackers. But as a topping, I’ll be honest: I think it lacks something to be desired. Yes, it’s nutty, and yes, it’s darn healthy, but it’s a little bland. Compared to other toppings I love—say, my hempesan, or a sprinkle of one of my raw granolas—it pales a little.

So that got me thinking about toppings, and what I might put on my oatmeal that would be slightly more flavorful than flax (this isn’t to say that I might not still put a good heap of flax into my oats as they cook). I thought about hemp seeds, which are a frequent topper in my house (I sprinkle them on salads all the time). I thought about nooch, but quickly rejected the idea (too savory for my typically fruit-sweetened oatmeal). And then I decided to get creative, stop examining what was already in my pantry, and come up with something new.

And so this oatmeal topper was born. Chia seeds, along with flax seeds, are my favorite binder, topper, and source of sprinkled nutrition. On their own, they haven’t got much taste—if anything, they’re less flavorful by far than nutty flax seed—but what they can do is absorb flavors really well, in puddings and drinks. They also can be eaten whole (as opposed to flax, which has to be ground in order for us to digest and assimilate it), and they can be mixed with just about anything.

This morning, I mixed them up with cacao nibs, which are also among my favorite toppers. Cacao nibs impart a chocolatey taste without getting overly sweet or making you feel as though you just dumped a cup of chocolate chips onto your food (not that that would be a tragedy). They’re also high in antioxidants, and a good source of iron and magnesium. I like to use the Navitas Naturals brand for both cacao nibs and chia!

No matter how you prepare it, this topper is supremely simple.

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Easy Chocolate Chia Crumble Topping (raw, gluten free, soy free)

Makes 1 Cup


  • 1/2 cup cacao nibs
  • 1/3 chia seeds
  • 5 pitted dates

And mix them in a food processor till they’re crumbly.

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Serve them on top of oats or any other breakfast cereal, or you can do what I did, and sprinkle them on top of a green smoothie. Check it out: banana, strawberry, Vega whole foods optimizer, spinach, chlorella, and almond milk, topped with my new creation:


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You can store the topping in a glass jar or ziplock bag for a couple of weeks. But I doubt it’ll last that long.

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This versatile topping is great for any breakfast dish, and you can enjoy it with the knowledge that you’re getting natural, energy-fueling simple sugars from the dates, as well as protein, calcium, and heart-healthy Omega-3 essential fatty acids from the chia seeds.

Speaking of that, did you happen to see the fascinating VegNews interview with Victoria Boutenko, Chad Sarno, and Elaina Love this week? These three leaders in the raw foods world have written a new book detailing how their diets have shifted in recent years from 100% raw to high-raw. One of the primary reasons for this change is that the three authors felt that traditional raw diets were too reliant on nuts and oils, which provide a great deal of Omega-6 fatty acids, but not enough Omega-3s. In addition to adding steamed vegetables and other cooked foods to her diet, Victoria Boutenko now advises against nuts and oils.

I am thrilled to hear of this shift toward more cooked food acceptance, as it were, from raw foods leaders. And I admire the three authors for being honest and forthcoming about their dietary evolutions; I hope that more and more raw foods leaders will continue to share a passionate, pro-raw message while also sharing an appreciation for healthy cooked foods.

That said, I’ll be curious to read the book, because from the interview alone, it seemed to me that Boutenko had traded one villain (cooked food) for another (nuts and oils). And the impulse to identify single culprits for complex nutrition and health problems is often, at least in my experience, overly reductive. It’s true that most people eat too many Omega-6s, and not enough Omega-3s. Both EFA’s are essential to proper metabolism, but too many Omega-6s in the absence of Omega-3s have been associated with inflammation and some chronic disease.

Avoiding nuts and oils, however, may not be a necessary approach to this dilemma. It may, in fact, be an unwise one, since there are many positive and proven health benefits associated with nuts and seeds, including overall cardiovascular support and lowering of LDL. The problem here is an imbalance, and the solution is not to create another one by excluding all dietary Omega-6’s. It’s also worth saying that most of the health problems associated with this improper ratio are among people eating diets that are dramatically high in processed vegetable oils and/or snack foods, and not people who are eating high quality oils, along with almonds, cashews, sesame seeds, or walnuts (and walnuts, in fact, are a good source of Omega-3s).

My upshot advice? Be mindful of your nut and oil consumption, certainly, and keep to reasonable portion sizes (1/4 cup nuts, 2 tbsp nut butter, 1 tbsp or less of oil). But don’t feel that you must eliminate all nuts and oils to be healthy; instead, eat them moderately, and also focus on getting more Omega-3s into your diet. Good sources include chia, hemp, flax, and full fat, non-GMO soy foods. So you can start with a little chia crumble.

And have a great weekend.


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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy January 20, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Great idea for a yummy chia crumble topping, I love it!

I saw that you use Vega whole foods optimizer, do you use the natural flavor? I was thinking about trying it but wondering if it is chalky? I also really dislike sweetened protein powders. Right now I am using Garden of Life RAW protein but I find it a little chalky/earthy in some recipes. Thanks, and have a great weekend!


Gena January 20, 2012 at 8:46 pm

If you disliked sweetened, the natural flavor is as un-sweet as you’ll find. It’s still a bit sweet, but in truth, I like the vanilla chai, which is SUPER sweet! It is not at all chalky.


Hannah January 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm

An interesting discussion on nuts and oils – I have difficulty with them knowing they are so full of vitamins and proteins but also a lot of fat. Are those portion sizes you suggest for within a day or within a meal? I often find 1T of oil will go in just one meal, maybe 1 or 2T of nuts or nut butter at another. Is that ok or excessive do you reckon?
Clearly this is something that bothers people – you did some excellent posts on protein and iron last year – would you consider doing some on fats and sugars?
Enjoy the blog as always and a belated thank you for yesterday’s brave and inspiring post


Gena January 20, 2012 at 4:56 pm


I’ll certainly think on it! And those recommendations were for a meal (that’s what I mean by “portion sizes”) and not for a day.

G :)


Hannah January 20, 2012 at 4:58 pm

O good thanks I got myself worried there – I guess that reminds me to be wary of those restrictive tendencies – how silly to think 1T of oil for a day!


bitt January 20, 2012 at 9:41 pm

I too get nervous with restrictions like that but find if am eating plenty of veggies and fruits, the nuts and oils are just a flavoring for the most part. I also am finding that eating nuts whole rather than blended into a ball probably lowers the amount I have, although less fun.


laura January 21, 2012 at 8:29 am

Great post. I love that you got a delicious recipe in there with some great, moderate advice. That portion size sounds just about right. It took me a long time not to be “afraid” of fats, nuts, oils, avocados and the like. And now they make me so happy I’m not willing to go the other direction again. That said, I resonate with Hannah below, sometimes it’s hard not to react with restrictive thoughts when a new “finding” is released. But moderation is the answer.

Rebecca January 20, 2012 at 4:47 pm

YUM! My green smoothies needed a little spicing up! PS I blame YOU for my new chia addiction – sacre bleu ! My name is Rebecca and I’m a chiaholic. ;)


Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga January 20, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Easy, nobake/raw, vegan, GF, and uses chocolate…I am sold.

Regarding the Victoria B interview, I always appreciate acceptance and tolerance rather than dogma, verse and law, type thinking. Realizing that not one size fits all, or that even if a size once fit a person at one phase in her life, it may not be the fit forever.

Things, people, circumstances, needs, and desires change; and to be able to change as needed from the type of food eaten to the way you wear your hair to the type of workouts you do, is just a part of life.


Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table January 20, 2012 at 4:52 pm

This chia crumble is so cool! I make a protein smoothie ever day and am forever trying to think of something other than fruit and cereal crumbs to top my smoothies with. So simple and delicious! Can’t wait to have this on my smoothie tomorrow.


Maria @ Scandifoodie January 20, 2012 at 5:16 pm

This sounds so delicious! What a wonderful idea!


Ali January 20, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Love how simple this is. Clever!


Christine (The Raw Project) January 20, 2012 at 5:57 pm

This topping sounds wonderful, I adore using chia and hemp seeds as a topping. And great post about a high raw diet, I’ve found mixing more cooked vegan foods has worked better for me since I’m leery about the fat content and weak protein in too many nuts. Plus I adore tempeh lately. :-)


Alexa January 20, 2012 at 6:36 pm

I have a question (actually two) hoping you reply!
I work out 5-6 times out of the week mainly running but am going to include more strength training. I can’t decide between the vega sport or the vega health optimizer. The vega sport has more protein per calorie ratio. But the vega health optimizer has some good vitamins and minerals, like the maca, chlorella, ect (which right now I am trying to balance hormones and need maca). I have read most of brendan braziers books and I know he has you as a reference (though I was reading your blog before I read his books). So which would you recommend? Also what chlorella do you recommend?


Gena January 20, 2012 at 8:48 pm

I really prefer the optimizer, though I also love the sport! The optimizer just offers more nutrition, and I prefer the flavors. I work out a fair bit, and find that the protein is sufficient for me. Additionally, the Sport has quite a bit of sodium, which makes sense as an electrolyte replenisher, but given that I’m not a big sweater, it doesn’t make so much sense for me.

Both are good — but the optimizer wins, IMO.


Gena January 20, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Oh — and I use Sun Chlorella.


Kelsey January 20, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Very informative – thanks for sharing this! I actually had no idea about the importance of the ratio between omega-6 and omega-3s, and I’m going to start to be more conscious about it now! Also, this topping looks so tasty.


pure2raw twins January 20, 2012 at 8:15 pm

love it! we made something similar to this last year though we just did chia hemp and cacao nibs – so good. and love this idea too! brilliant!!
Hope you have a wonderful weekend dear friend.


Nikki FYC January 20, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Oh yum! I love that it’s full of nutrition and tasty and crunchy and chocolatey. I’m going to put it on my oatmeal.


IngaG January 20, 2012 at 10:52 pm

As I am learning to incorporate more chia seeds, I am thankful for the ideas!

I read the Boutenko interview and was very thankful l did not come across her writings when I first began to read on raw foods. To me, her thinking appears too biased and simplistic, as exemplified by the contrast between “living” and “rotting” almond seeds. Whereas both are complex biological processes, and decomposition of living matter is pretty central to the continuation of natural life… I know that my mother tried reading one of her books and gave it up: my mother has a PhD in chemistry, and she said she discovered enough mistakes to lose trust in the author.

So I am grateful to have writings such as yours or Ginny Messina, where I can trust the author to use systematic methodological approach, present a balance of empirical evidence, and be aware of potential biases.


Gena January 21, 2012 at 9:31 am

Thank you so much, Inga. I worship Ginny’s work. And yes, the “un-science” of some of the raw foods movement astonishes me. I always used to gasp at that claim about sprouts. To say nothing of the idea that, because animals eat raw food in nature, we must too — that this was even persuasive at one point is troubling! Nutrition needs vary dramatically between species. It’s a kind of superstitious thinking that I’ll never really understand.


Hannah January 21, 2012 at 4:44 am

Oh thank heavens! I read that article (I think after you tweeted it) and felt uncomfortable with the rather didactic (to me) tone tied up in the exclusion of all nuts and oils. And, well, it also just made me sad. We’ve got huge groups of people cutting out all sugar, including fruit, others demonising nuts and oils… why can’t we all just get along [with food]?!


Heather @Gluten-Free Cat January 21, 2012 at 10:10 am

One of the reasons that I love reading your site and using your recipes is that your are so balanced in your approach to food. So your interpretation of the article resonates with me. Left to my own devices I gravitate toward all or nothing thinking, which is not healthy. Posts like this are so helpful in staying grounded. Thank you. Love the topping idea and will try it on oatmeal AND my next smoothie!


Amber Shea @Almost Vegan January 21, 2012 at 11:28 am

I AGREE with your attitude toward the VegNews article. I am very wary about that “villain-trading” as well. There are other problems with their stance, too…they acknowledge that omega-3 deficiency is widespread, not just among raw foodists but among everyone, and this is true – but then why write a book that frames it as a question of cooked vs. raw? I don’t see how the reality of omega-3 needs and deficiencies says anything in favor of cooked food – in fact, quite the opposite, since the omegas SHOULD be eaten raw.
Now, if the issue is that they feel they ate TOO MUCH total fat, including omega-6s, as raw foodists, then that’s valid. I agree that many raw foodists do overdo it on the nuts and seeds, and don’t feel their best as a result. But again, why, then, write a book about omega-3 deficiency? It doesn’t make sense to me. Omega-3 and -6 intake is not only not reason enough to recommend cooked foods, but in most cases it’s actually reason against it. There ARE numerous reasons to incorporate cooked food into one’s diet, I believe, and a [slightly] lower fat intake might be one of them, for some people, but it doesn’t sound like this book covers other (far more valid, in my eyes) reasons to balance cooked and raw.


Laura C January 21, 2012 at 1:06 pm

I’m really glad to read that interview because food gurus like that have such undue influence on people’s health and psyches. I wonder if he’s eating beans or grains, or shifting to an all-vegetable diet (which it sounds more like), which seems not so healthy.


Wendy (Healthy GIrl's Kitchen) January 21, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Love the chia crumble idea!!! I was just driving home today thinking, “I need to get more chia into my diet!” Is that crazy?


Lauren January 21, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Grat post! that looks delicious and very interesting interview. Off to read it now!


Rachel January 21, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Thanks for the recipe and the information! I am known to go on an omega-6 binge at times. yikes


Ela January 22, 2012 at 1:21 am

That is a yummy topping–would work even with parfait!

Thanks for bringing up that article–I’d heard they’d put out a book (and I’ve worked with Elaina and helped Victoria in the past, so have a good feel for them). I especially appreciate your response, though. You know how paranoid I am about omega 6, and I think my ND would agree with you: he frequently encourages me to eat some nuts and not to worry so much about the omega 6 thing, saying that since I’m not eating seed oils, meat, dairy, and a whole bunch of other stuff, a few nuts aren’t going to mess me up too much. I’m still scared of nuts, but I’m glad to see your commentary before I go read the article and let them reinforce my paranoia!


Heather Eats Almond Butter January 22, 2012 at 8:03 am

Thanks Gena. I’ve got so many chia seeds (kind of got burned out on them a while ago), but this recipe has me thinking I need to dig them out of the cabinet, especially b/c I know my omega 6 to omega 3 ratio is probably way off…darn peanut butter! ;)


Heather @Gluten-Free Cat January 22, 2012 at 11:33 am

Just made this crumble topping, and it’s delicious! We’re having it on oatmeal this morning. The Husband even likes it, wow! Thanks again for a another great recipe. :)


Get Skinny, Go Vegan. January 22, 2012 at 5:53 pm

looks delicious. so craving chocolate in this gloomy, wintery kind of bipolar weather!


Mikaela January 23, 2012 at 4:06 pm

mmm i was eating my morning bowl of oatmeal with strawberries, peaches, chia and flax as I read this! This crumble seems like the perfect indulgent addition to my oatmeal on mornings when I crave a bit of extra sweetness. Regarding the VB article, I wholeheartedly agree with your argument against overly-reductionist nutritional finger-pointing. As I was eating a post-shift meal with my co-worker last night, she sadly slid her taco’s avocado slices to the edge of her plate with a sigh and said that her doctor told her she should avoid eating avocado. Apparently, in an effort to lower her LDL, her doctor handed her a pamphlet (ie one-size fits all) and told her to follow its “rules,” which included avoiding “fatty foods” like avocado. This is a woman who cooks in a Mexican restaurant and loves using avocado as a heart-healthy taco filling in place of sour cream! Grrr…


Angelika January 31, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Can I use chia powder? (When I was at the co-op they didn’t have chia seeds so I bought the powder).

Should I use it differently, if so, how and in what?


Jan February 25, 2012 at 10:22 pm

I tried to make this topping, but in my processor, but the chips stayed in tact. I’m new to my processor, this is only the second time I’ve used it (blender for my smoothies). The dates were blended a ton, but not the chips. Ideas?


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