Mexican Chia (Salvia hispanica) is in the mint family and the green bushy plant can grow up to 4 feet tall. It is native to Southern Mexico and Central America. The name Chia is derived from a Native Mexican word "chian" which means oily from the high oil content of the seeds. The Aztecs are believed to have used chia seed as a large part of their diet, dating back as far as 3500 BC. the Aztecs also used chia seed as a form of currency for trade. When the Spaniards invaded Mexico, they tried to break down the Aztec culture and eliminate any foods that were a large part of their traditions. Today, chia is commercially grown in Mexico, Central America and Australia. The tiny seeds are about one millimeter long and are a mottled gray and brown.
Chia Seeds and Nutrition
There are not too many uses for the leaves of the chia plant, it is the chia seed that packs the nutritional punch. The seeds contain up to 25% omega-3 fatty acids including ALA (alpha-linolenic acid.) They also contain protein and fiber and are considered a near-perfect food source and are also known as a "superfood." Just one ounce of seed contains approximately 4 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat and 11 grams of fiber. It also contains other minerals typically found in similar seeds such as flax. But because of the high anti-oxidants the chia seeds do not spoil as quickly flax seeds can. When the seeds are soaked, they can absorb up to twelve times their weight in liquid and become gelatinous. Once consumed, they can form a gel in your stomach which can slow down carbohydrates and sugars and the gelled seeds also help keep your electrolytes in balance. The seeds are also thought to help build muscle and are ideal for athletes.
Uses for Chia Seeds
Chia seeds can be used a number of ways. They can be ground up and added to breads, cereals and baked goods to add nutritional value. In Mexico, chia seeds are used to make Chia Fresca or which is water or juice with chia seeds in it and possibly the easiest way to enjoy chia. You can sprinkle a teaspoon of chia seeds into your favorite agua fresca, juice or lemon water and let them soak for about ten minutes. They will become gelatinous and they add a nice texture to your drink. The seeds can also be sprouted and used in salads, sandwiches or as a garnish. (The seeds are sprouted on what is known as a "Chia Pet" in some regions.) Chia seeds are often mixed into Pinole.
Pinole is a meal or flour made from dried maize (a type of corn) and chia seeds. It is a part of diet of the Tarahumara people of Mexico. The maize is dried and removed from the husk, toasted in hot ash, then ground into a meal. Chia seeds are added to the ground corn meal and this combination is known as Pinole. Pinole is eaten plain, or water and seasonings are added to create a porridge.