Ubiquitous in television ads that made their debut 30 years ago, Chia Pets were called “the pottery that grows.” Mixing chia seeds and water on the outside of an animal-shaped terra-cotta figurine produces a plant resembling green hair almost overnight.
Now, chia is having a second life as the latest nutritional “it” item. Whole and ground chia seeds are being added to fruit drinks, snack foods and cereals and sold on their own to be baked into cookies and sprinkled on yogurt. Grown primarily in Mexico and Bolivia, chia is rich in the same omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, along with antioxidants, protein and fiber. Recognition of its nutritional value can be traced as far back as the Aztecs.
Companies like Dole and Nature’s Path have introduced chia products, which have begun showing up on shelves in mainstream grocery stores like Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons. Mintel, a market research firm, counted 100 products containing chia in a presentation it did in March on the potential of increasing the use of the seeds in dairy products.
I had no idea chia seeds were actually edible, nor that the “Aztecs” recognized their nutritional value. Still, that they’ve become a hot commodity in the always-strange health food industry in the US is not surprising, as they join other commonly-found Latin American foodstuffs like açaí and guanabara as alleged super-foods (claims that the native countries of these products usually don’t make at home).
Also, I’m sad to say that of all the books on economics and transnational trade in Latin America, not a single one ever mentioned that chia seeds actually come from Mexico and Bolivia. Clearly, somebody needs to start working on a history of the chia plant.