Our customers often wonder, “What is Chia?” Some have heard about the unbelievably high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients present in Chia seeds. Others have read that Chia is highly regarded by runners and other athletes. And many know Chia as the namesake of Chia Pets, novelty animal figurines popular in the 1980s.
Chia is the common name for salvia hispanica, a plant species which is closely related to sage and other herbs. It was cultivated by the Aztec Empire, who held the crop in such esteem that they collected it as an annual tribute. Chia seeds were a main component of the Aztec diet, and they believed just a tablespoon of Chia seeds was enough to sustain a warrior for twenty-four hours.
Although Chia has long been an important crop of Mexico and the southwestern United States, the crop has recently been “rediscovered” by the rest of the world, largely because the Aztecs were spot on about all of its health benefits. Chia is considered a superfood because of its rich nutritional and antioxidant content. Chia seeds contain extremely high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, calcium, and many essential minerals.
One well-known group of Chia eaters is the Tarahumara tribe of Mexico, known for their prodigious long-distance running ability and spotlighted in “Born to Run,” by Christopher McDougall. McDougall describes how the Tarahumara, who can run over one hundred miles with little effort, consider Chia seeds one of the two most important staples of their diet. This has led many American runners to begin adding Chia to their meals.
Chia seeds have a cool and useful property called hydrophilia: they can soak up to ten times their weight in water, creating a gel. People looking to lose weight often eat Chia seeds, because research suggests that when this gel is formed in the stomach, it causes the body to absorb calories more slowly and makes people feel fuller faster. Preliminary research shows the gel can be especially beneficial to diabetics by slowing the rate at which the body converts carbohydrates to sugar. Because of Chia seeds’ water-absorption properties, athletes often eat them to keep themselves hydrated. (This is also the secret to Chia Pets: the gel that the seeds form when soaked in water binds them to the clay surface of the figurines.)
What is Chia used for? Chia seeds can be eaten raw, soaked in water or fruit juice, or added to pretty much any other food. Chia seeds (unlike flax seeds) don’t require grinding to obtain their nutritional value, and are often used in, mixed with, or sprinkled on porridges, puddings, baked goods, salads, nutrition bars, and yogurt. You can find a list of Chia recipes.