Ah, Salvia hispanica! Or chia, for the uninitiated. Did you know chia is part of the mint family? It’s a surprising little plant all round.
Chia: A Potted History
- It’s a flowering herb
- It grows natively in central and southern Mexico and Guatemala
- Its seed has been super-powering humans since at least the Aztec period
Chia seeds were highly prized in ancient civilizations. The Florentine and Mendoza Codices, contemporary manuscripts documenting Aztec life, illustrate the seeds’ service as a cash crop and a religious sacrifice. The Pre-Columbians used them extensively: in medicine, ground with other grains, mixed in drinks and pressed for oil.
Although usage waned before the recent re-awakening, the chia seed’s reputation as an energy-giver persisted. The famous superathletes of the Mexican Tarahumara tribe traditionally drink a mixture of water, chia seeds and lemon before they run (and run and run). This concoction, known as Iskiate, might have been the first energy drink.
Today, chia is grown commercially all over Latin America, the Southwestern United States and even in Australia. Supply has thankfully spread in line with the demand of savvy foodies keen to harness the power of the ancient seed.
The Tiny Oval that Packs a Punch
Chia seeds are about 1mm in diameter. Imagine the head of a pin before marvelling at all the goodness that’s crammed in these little dynamos. In a serving (28g), you gain:
- 4g Protein
- 11g Fiber
- 9g Fat (5g are Omega-3s)
That’s all good for energy, digestion, heart and brain. And skin and nails – how does 8 times the amount of omega 3s as a serving of salmon sound to you? While we’re there, let’s squeeze in lots of your recommended daily doses of these nutrients:
Sorry milk, but 5 times the calcium from chia seeds seems a snazzy deal to us. And why not throw in some Potassium, Zinc and B1, 2 and 3 for good measure? Oh, and that’s only 137 calories and 1 gram of digestible carb, in case you were worried. They’re naturally gluten-free and ours are organic and non-GMO. Arriba!
Catch Up and Catch On!
The benefits of this super-seed are not exactly a secret. America went chia wild after the release of Born To Run, the book that brought attention to the Tarahumara runners and their penchant for chia. We Europeans have been a little slow to catch on however, with the EU only permitting chia seeds as a “novel food” (*apologies, Aztec and Mayan ancestors*) in 2009. The search word combo “chia” + “seed” only started trending in the UK in 2012. We’ve been missing out! Maybe we just didn’t know how to use these special specks of goodness? A-ha! Right this way…
How do I Chia?
How don’t you chia! This vibrant and versatile little superstar has a pleasantly mild flavour profile and can be used to upgrade the nutritional value of almost any meal. Take one tablespoon, load it with seeds and you’re good to go:
- Take ‘em naked
- Sprinkle them on your porridge, cereal, yoghurt…
- Shake them into your favourite smoothie mix to turbo-charge the benefits
- Stir them into juice or emulate the Tarahumara tribe and add lemon juice and water for an energy hit
- Make use of their hydrophilic properties (they absorb 12 times their weight in liquid!) and soak in water to create a gel that vegans celebrate as an effective egg-replacer
- Bake into flapjacks, brownies, bread… or pretty much anything!
- Pop them in a tot of coconut milk with some spiriting spices and leave overnight. Spiced chia seed pudding = breakfast of champions!