Salvia hispanica, commonly known as Chia, is a species of flowering plant in the mint family, Lamiaceae, that is native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala.
It was cultivated by the Aztec in pre-Columbian times, and was so valued that it was given as an annual tribute by the people to the rulers. It is still widely used in Mexico and South America, with the seeds ground for nutritious drinks and as a food source. It is also used for chia pet planters.
Growth : Chia is grown commercially for its seed, a food that is very rich in omega-3 fatty acids, since the seeds yield 25-30% extractable oil, mostly α-linolenic acid (ALA). It also is a source of antioxidants and a variety of amino acids.
Etymology : The word chia is derived from the Nahuatl word chian, meaning oily. The present Mexican state of Chiapas received its name from the Nahuatl "chia water or river."
Botany : Chia is an annual herb growing to 1 m (3.3 ft) tall, with opposite leaves 4–8 cm (1.6–3.1 in) long and 3–5 cm (1.2–2.0 in) broad. Its flowers are purple or white and are produced in numerous clusters in a spike at the end of each stem.
Seeds : Chia seeds are typically small ovals with a diameter of about 1 mm (0.039 in). They are mottle-colored with brown, gray, black and white. Chia seeds typically contain 20% protein, 34% oil, 25% dietary fiber (mostly soluble with high molecular weight), and significant levels of antioxidants (chlorogenic and caffeic acids, myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol flavonols).
The oil from chia seeds contains a very high concentration of omega-3 fatty acid — approximately 64%. Chia seeds contain no gluten and trace levels of sodium.
Chia seed is traditionally consumed in Mexico, the southwestern United States, and South America, but is not widely known in Europe. Historically, chia seeds served as a staple food of the Nahua (Aztec) cultures of Central Mexico. Jesuit chroniclers referred to chia as the third most important crop to the Aztecs behind only maize and beans, and ahead of amaranth.
Tribute and taxes to the Aztec priesthood and nobility were often paid in chia seed.
Today, chia is grown commercially in its native Mexico, and in Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador and Guatemala.
In 2008, Australia was the world's largest producer of chia. A similar species, golden chia, is used in the same way but not widely grown commercially. Salvia hispanica seed is marketed most often under its common name "Chia," but also under several trademarks, including "Sachia," "Anutra," "Chia Sage," "Salba," "Tresalbio," and "Mila".
In 2009, the European Union approved chia seeds as a novel food, allowing them to comprise up to 5% of a bread product's total matter.
Food preparation : Chia seed may be eaten raw as a dietary fiber and omega-3 supplement.
Ground chia seed is sometimes added to pinole, a coarse flour made from toasted maize kernels. Chia seeds soaked in water or fruit juice is also often consumed and is known in Mexico as chia fresca.
The soaked seeds are gelatinous in texture and are used in gruels, porridges and puddings. Ground chia seed is used in baked goods including breads, cakes and biscuits.
Chia sprouts are used in a similar manner as alfalfa sprouts in salads, sandwiches and other dishes. Chia sprouts are sometimes grown on porous clay figurines which has led to the popular U.S. cultural icon of the Chia Pet.