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Salvia hispanica, commonly known as chia, is a species of flowering plant in the mint family, Lamiaceae, native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala. The 16th-century Codex Mendoza provides evidence that it was cultivated by the Aztec in pre-Columbian times; economic historians have suggested it was as important as maize as a food crop. It is still used in Mexico and Guatemala, sometimes with the seeds ground or with whole seeds used for nutritious drinks and as a food source.
It is one of two plants known as chia, the other being Salvia columbariae, which is more commonly known as the golden chia.
Chia is an annual herb growing up to 1 m (3.3 ft) tall, with opposite leaves that are 4–8 cm (1.6–3.1 in) long and 3–5 cm (1.2–2.0 in) wide. Its flowers are purple or white and are produced in numerous clusters in a spike at the end of each stem. Chia is hardy from USDA Zones 9-12. Many plants cultivated as S. hispanica are actually S. lavandulifolia.
Chia is grown commercially for its seed, a food that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, since the seeds yield 25–30% extractable oil, including α-linolenic acid (ALA). Of total fat, the composition of the oil can be 55% ω-3, 18% ω-6, 6% ω-9, and 10% saturated fat.
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. The seeds are hydrophilic, absorbing up to 12 times their weight in liquid when soaked. While soaking, the seeds develop a mucilaginous gel-like coating that gives chia-based beverages a distinctive texture.
Chia seed is traditionally consumed in Mexico, and the southwestern United States, but is not widely known in Europe. Chia (or chian or chien) has mostly been identified as Salvia hispanica L. Today, chia is grown commercially in its native Mexico, and in Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Australia, and Guatemala. In 2008, Australia was the world's largest producer of chia. A similar species, Salvia columbariae or golden chia, is used in the same way but is not grown commercially for food. Salvia hispanica seed is marketed most often under its common name "chia", but also under several trademarks.
According to the USDA, a one ounce (28 gram) serving of chia seeds contains 9 grams of fat, 5 milligrams of sodium, 11 grams of dietary fiber and 4 grams of protein. The seeds also have 18% of the recommended daily intake of calcium, 27% phosphorus and 30% manganese, similar in nutrient content to other edible seeds such as flax or sesame. Although preliminary research indicates potential for dietary health benefits, this work remains sparse and inconclusive.
One pilot study found that 10 weeks ingestion of 25 grams per day of milled chia seeds, compared to intact seeds, produced higher blood levels of alpha-linolenic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, an omega-3 long-chain fatty acid considered good for the heart, while having no effect on inflammation or disease risk factors.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||2,034 kJ (486 kcal)|
|- Dietary fiber||34.4 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.||54 μg (7%)|
|Thiamine (vit. B1)||0.62 mg (54%)|
|Riboflavin (vit. B2)||0.17 mg (14%)|
|Niacin (vit. B3)||8.83 mg (59%)|
|Folate (vit. B9)||49 μg (12%)|
|Vitamin C||1.6 mg (2%)|
|Vitamin E||0.5 mg (3%)|
|Calcium||631 mg (63%)|
|Iron||7.72 mg (59%)|
|Magnesium||335 mg (94%)|
|Manganese||2.723 mg (130%)|
|Phosphorus||860 mg (123%)|
|Potassium||407 mg (9%)|
|Sodium||16 mg (1%)|
|Zinc||4.58 mg (48%)|
|Link to USDA Database entry|
Percentages are roughly approximated
using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
S. hispanica is described and pictured in the Mendoza Codex and the Florentine Codex, sixteenth century Aztec codices created between 1540 and 1585. Both describe and picture Salvia hispanica and its usage by the Aztec. The Mendoza Codex indicates that the plant was widely cultivated and given as tribute in 21 of the 38 Aztec provincial states. Economic historians suggest that it was a staple food that was as widely used as maize.
Aztec tribute records from the Mendoza Codex, Matrícula de Tributos, and the Matricula de Huexotzinco (1560)—along with colonial cultivation reports and linguistic studies—give detail to the geographic location of the tributes, and provide some geographic specificity to the main S. hispanica growing regions. Most of the provinces grew the plant, except for areas of lowland coastal tropics and desert. The traditional area of cultivation was in a distinct area that covered parts of north-central Mexico south to Nicaragua. A second and separate area of cultivation area, which was apparently pre-Columbian, was in southern Honduras and Nicaragua.
In the United States, the first substantial wave of chia seed sales came in the 1980s in the form of the Chia Pet. Chia pets are clay figures of popular icons, such as sheep or human heads, on top of which chia seeds are spread in a sticky paste. The figures are then watered and the seeds on the chia pet start to sprout in a form suggesting the figure's hair. About 500,000 chia pets a year are sold today in the US as novelties or house plants.