Tag Archives: history of chia seeds

What Are Chia Seeds?

By now, most people have heard about the health benefits of chia seeds. But many still wonder: what are chia seeds?

In short, chia seeds are seeds that come from a plant, (scientific name: salvia hispanica L.), or chia, that is in the mint family.

"Photo from a dusty roadside in Costa Rica." -- Dick Culbert
Photo from a dusty roadside in Costa Rica.” — Dick Culbert

Chia seeds sometimes are erroneously referred to as a whole grain but they are, in fact, a seed, according to Wayne Coates, a professor and one of the top chia researchers in the country.

So, in summary, chia seeds are edible seeds that come from a plant related to mint.

So, where and how are chia seeds grown?

Chia seeds are cultivated mostly in various countries in Central and South America, including Peru and Argentina, as well as in Australia. There also are some chia seeds grown in the United States. (US Chia grows chia seeds on a farm in Kentucky.)

 What is the history of chia seeds?

Chia seeds have a long, rich history. They were prized in pre-Colombian times as an important food and source of oil. The seeds and other parts of the chia plant also were used to make medicines. With the arrival of the Spanish colonists, the use of chia declined, and the plant was all but forgotten for many years.

Historical texts show that, in pre-Colombian times, chia seeds commonly were roasted and used to make a flour called Chianpinolli. The flour was used to make tortillas and tamales. The Aztecs also used this flour to make a drinks known as Chianatoles.

Chia seeds -- Photo: Seth Anderson
Chia seeds — Photo: Seth Anderson

What are chia seeds good for?

Chia seeds have become popular in the United States and other countries for a variety of reasons. First, they’re generally considered a healthy food and a good addition to the diet. They contain large amounts of  fiber, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, according to registered dietician Angela Stanford.

And chia seeds are used in cooking in many ways. For example, they can be used as an egg substitute in baking. They’re also good for thickening soups, sauces, gravy and fruit smoothies. Here is a guide to how to eat chia seeds.

Chia seeds are classified as a food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, rather than as a drug or supplement, but research has shown benefits for certain health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.

How else is chia used?

chia seed history

In Mexico and Central America, chia seeds are used to make medicinal infusions. Though there is no scientific proof to back up these uses, the chia plant (including the seeds, leaves and roots) has been used throughout history as a folk remedy for conditions such as fever, infections, stomach problems, eye issues and overall health.

In Mexico, after the year 1600, chia fresca or “agua de chia” became popular as a refreshing beverage. The drink contains chia seeds, lemon or lime juice and sugar, and it’s made in homes and sold by street vendors. Recently, this drink has become popular in the United States as well.

In modern times, chia also is used in beauty products for the skin and hair. It’s extremely versatile, it has many uses, and it’s becoming more and more mainstream.

Sources:

USDA plant taxonomy

National Institutes of Health chia seeds paper, “The Promising Future of Chia”

Ethnobotany of chia, salva hispanica L.” — Joseph Cahill