Chia comes from a sage that is valued for its tiny seeds rather than the aroma of its leaves and flowers. The shiny, black and white mottled seeds were once best known as the source of the “fur” that sprouted on Chia Pets. But the seeds are far more valuable for their nutritional wealth. Like quinoa, they are a complete protein. They are also extremely rich in omega-3 fatty acids (more so than flax seeds and even salmon), fiber, phytochemicals, and essential minerals such as phosphorus and manganese. And if this isn’t enough to make you want to go on a search for them, chia seeds also contain calcium, vitamin C, and traces of potassium and sodium. It’s no wonder that chia is a highly valued plant and has been for centuries. In pre-Columbian times, chia was an essential food. A few spoonfuls could, and can, keep a person going all day. It is sometimes called the “running food” because just a handful of seeds sustained Aztec messengers during their extended running bouts. Not surprisingly, runners today also turn to chia seeds.


Chia seeds seemed to disappear after the Chia Pet craze. A few years ago it was difficult to find them; now it’s not difficult at all. The growing interest in good health and high quality fats like omega-3s has done much to bring chia back into our world. Production has risen in South America and in Australia. New recipes are sprouting (no pun intended) all over, but one thing you can do is sprinkle them on your cereal or stir them into water or juice and drink up. Plus, chia seeds can be sprouted, not to simulate the fur of fuzzy little animals, but to eat.


Once the seeds are immersed in water they swell and become somewhat gelatinous as they absorb the water. With enough seeds in proportion to the water (one part to 9 parts), you can get the consistency of Jell-O. It seems that all gelatinous foods: okra, cactus paddles, agar, aloe, purslane, sweet potato greens, are beneficial, especially for weight loss and stabilizing blood sugar, as they slow down the body’s absorption of food, thus displacing calories.


Despite their rich-oil content (the word chia comes from the Nahuatl word for “oily”), they are remarkably stable and don’t turn rancid the way other seeds and grains do, at least in whole form. Once ground, the oils become exposed to the air, which hastens rancidity, so ground seeds must be refrigerated.

Deborah Madison, from Vegetable Literacy