Chia seeds are the edible seeds of Salvia hispanica, a flowering plant in the mint family (Lamiaceae) native to Central America, or of the related Salvia columbariae of the southwestern United States and Mexico. Chia seeds are oval and gray with black and white spots, having a diameter around 1 millimetre (0.04 in). The seeds are hydrophilic, absorbing up to 12 times their weight in liquid when soaked and developing a mucilaginous coating that gives chia-based foods and beverages a distinctive gel texture.
There is evidence that the crop was widely cultivated by the Aztecs in pre-Columbian times and was a staple food for Mesoamerican cultures. Chia seeds are cultivated on a small scale in their ancestral homeland of central Mexico and Guatemala and commercially throughout Central and South America.
Typically, chia seeds are small flattened ovals measuring on average 2.1 mm × 1.3 mm × 0.8 mm (0.08 in × 0.05 in × 0.03 in), with an average weight of 1.3 mg per seed. They are mottle-colored with brown, gray, black, and white. The seeds are hydrophilic, absorbing up to 12 times their weight in liquid when soaked; they develop a mucilaginous coating that gives chia-based creams and beverages a distinctive gel texture.
Chia (or chian or chien) has mostly been identified as Salvia hispanica L. Other plants referred to as "chia" include "golden chia" (Salvia columbariae). The seeds of Salvia columbariae are used medicinally and for food.
In the 21st century, chia is grown and consumed commercially in its native Mexico and Guatemala, as well as Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Australia. New patented varieties of chia have been developed in Kentucky for cultivation in northern latitudes of the United States.
Seed yield varies depending on cultivars, mode of cultivation, and growing conditions by geographic region. For example, commercial fields in Argentina and Colombia vary in yield range from 450 to 1250 kg/ha. A small-scale study with three cultivars grown in the inter-Andean valleys of Ecuador produced yields up to 2300 kg/ha, indicating that favorable growing environment and cultivar interacted to produce such high yields. Genotype has a larger effect on yield than on protein content, oil content, fatty acid composition, or phenolic compounds, whereas high temperature reduces oil content and degree of unsaturation, and raises protein content.
The 16th-century Codex Mendoza provides evidence that it was cultivated by the Aztec in pre-Columbian times, and economic historians say it may have been as important as maize as a food crop. It was given as an annual tribute by the people to the rulers in 21 of the 38 Aztec provincial states. Chia seeds served as a staple food for the Nahuatl (Aztec) cultures. Jesuit chroniclers placed chia as the third-most important crop in the Aztec culture, behind only corn and beans, and ahead of amaranth. Offerings to the Aztec priesthood were often paid in chia seed.
Ground or whole chia seeds are used in Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Paraguay for nutritious drinks and food. Today, chia is cultivated on a small scale in its ancestral homeland of central Mexico and Guatemala, and commercially in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||486 kcal (2,030 kJ)|
|Dietary fiber||34.4 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.|
|†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults. |
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Dried chia seeds contain 6% water, 42% carbohydrates, 16% protein, and 31% fat. In a 100-gram amount, chia seeds are a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of the B vitamins, thiamin and niacin (54% and 59% DV, respectively), and a moderate source of riboflavin (14% DV) and folate (12% DV). Several dietary minerals are in rich content, including calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc (all more than 20% DV; see table).
Chia seeds are under preliminary research for their potential effects on health, but this work remains sparse and inconclusive. In a 2015 systematic review, most studies were of poor quality and did not demonstrate significant effects of chia seed consumption on cardiovascular risk factors. No evidence to date indicates consuming chia seeds has adverse effects on or interacts with prescription drugs.
Chia seeds may be sprinkled or ground up on top of other foods. Chia seeds can also be mixed into smoothies, breakfast cereals, energy bars, granola bars, yogurt, tortillas, and bread. They can be soaked in water and consumed directly or mixed with any kind of juice to make chia fresca or with milk. Chia seed pudding, similar to tapioca pudding, is made with a type of milk, sweetener, and whole chia seeds. Chia seeds may also be ground and made into a gelatin-like substance or eaten raw. The gel from ground seeds may be used to replace as much as 25% of the egg and oil content in cakes.
If the outer seed covering is not broken, chia seeds may pass through the digestive system mostly undigested. Therefore, it may be nutritionally beneficial to grind chia seeds before consumption.
Joe Pedott created the Chia Pet in 1977 and marketed it widely after 1982. During the 1980s in the United States, the first substantial wave of chia seed sales was tied to chia pets, clay figures that serve as the base for a sticky paste of chia seeds. After the figures are watered, the seeds sprout into a form suggesting a fur covering.
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