Salvia hispanica (Chia) is a plant of the genus Salvia in the family Lamiaceae native to Mexico. The word chia is derived from the Aztec word chian, meaning oily. The present Mexican state of Chiapas received its name from the Nahua "chia water or river."
Chia was cultivated by the Aztecs in pre-Columbian times. Jesuit chroniclers referred to chia as the third most important crop to the Aztecs behind only corn and beans, and ahead of amaranth. Tribute and taxes to the Aztec priesthood and nobility were often paid in chia seed.
A great benefit of the chia seed is its durability. Unlike flax-seeds, chia can be stored for long periods without becoming rancid, and does not require grinding. Chia also contains higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids than flax-seeds, yielding 25-30% extractable oil, mostly α-linolenic acid (ALA). Chia seeds typically contain 20% protein, 34% oil, 25% dietary fiber (mostly soluble with high molecular weight), and significant levels of antioxidants (chlorogenic and caffeic acids, myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol flavonols). The oil from chia seeds contains a very high concentration of omega-3 fatty acid — approximately 64%. Chia seeds contain no gluten and trace levels of sodium.Chia is also is a source of antioxidants and a variety of amino acids. For all these health related benefits, chia is in the process of application before the EU authorities to be considered as a novel food.
Known as the running food, its use as a high energy endurance food has been recorded as far back as the ancient Aztecs. It was said the Aztec warriors subsisted on chia seed during the conquests. The Indians of the south west would eat as little as a teaspoon full when going on a 24 hour forced march. Indians running form the Colorado River to the California coast to trade turquoise for seashells would only bring the Chia seed for their nourishment.
Chia is grown commercially in its native Mexico, and in Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador and Guatemala. In 2008, Australia was the world's largest producer of chia. A similar species, golden chia, is used in the same way but not widely grown commercially. Salvia hispanica seed is marketed most often under its common name "Chia," but also under several trademarks, including "Sachia," "Anutra," "Chia Sage," "Salba," and "Tresalbio."
Chia is an annual herb growing to 1m tall, with opposite leaves 4 – 8cm long and 3 – 5cm broad. Its flowers are purple or white and are produced in numerous clusters in a spike at the end of each stem. Chia seeds are typically small ovals with a diameter of about one millimeter. They are mottle-colored with brown, gray, black and white.
How to Use Chia
Chia seed may be eaten raw as a dietary fiber and omega-3 supplement. Grinding chia seeds produces a meal called pinole, which can be made into porridge or cakes. Chia seeds soaked in water or fruit juice is also often consumed and is known in Mexico as chia fresca. The soaked seeds are gelatinous in texture and are used in gruels, porridges and puddings. Ground chia seed is used in baked goods including breads, cakes and biscuits.
Chia sprouts are used in a similar manner as alfalfa sprouts in salads, sandwiches and other dishes.
If you try placing a spoonful of chia in a glass of water and leaving it for approximately 30 minutes or so, when you return the glass will appear to contain not seeds or water, but an almost solid gelatin. This gel-forming reaction is due to the soluble fiber in the chia. Researchers believe this same gel-forming phenomenon takes place in the stomach when food containing these gummy fibers, known as mucilages, are eaten. The gel that is formed in the stomach creates a physical barrier between carbohydrates and the digestive enzymes that break them down, thus slowing the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar.
In addition to the obvious benefits for diabetics, this slowing in the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar offers the ability for creating endurance. Carbohydrates are the fuel for energy in our bodies. Prolonging their conversion into sugar stabilises metabolic changes, diminishing the surges of highs and lows creating a longer duration in their fueling effects.
One of the exceptional qualities of the Chia seed is its hydrophilic properties, having the ability to absorb more than 12 times its weight in water. Its ability to hold on to water offers the ability to prolong hydration. Fluids and electrolytes provide the environment that supports the life of all the body’s cells. Their concentration and composition are regulated to remain as constant as possible. With chia seeds, you retain moisture, regulate, more efficiently, the bodies absorption of nutrients and body fluids. Because there is a greater efficiency in the utilization of body fluids, the electrolyte balance is maintained.
Fluid and electrolyte imbalances occur when large amounts of fluids are lost resulting from vomiting, diarrhea, high fever, or more commonly from sweating? The loss of extracellular fluid occurs in these conditions. Intercellular fluid then shifts out of cells to compensate, causing abnormal distribution of electrolytes across cell membranes resulting in cellular malfunction. Retaining and efficiently utilising body fluids maintains the integrity of extracellular fluids, protecting intercellular fluid balance. The results of which ensure normal electrolyte dispersion across cell membranes (electrolyte balance), maintaining fluid balances, resulting in normal cellular function.
Chia seeds are the definitive hydrophilic colloid for the 21 century diet. Hydrophilic colloids, (a watery, gelatinous, glue-like substance) form the underlying elements of all living cells. They posses the property of readily taking up and giving off the substances essential to cell life. The precipitation of the hydrophilic colloids cause cell death.
The food we eat, in the raw state, consist largely of hydrophilic colloids. When cooked on the other had, precipitates its colloidal integrity. This change in the colloidal state alters the hydration capacity of our foods so as to interfere with their ability to absorb digestive juices. If we were to eat a raw diet we wouldn’t need to introduce the addition of any hydrophilic colloid to our diet. Uncooked foods contain sufficient hydrophilic colloid to keep gastric mucosa in the proper condition. But even with raw foods, they must first be partially broken down by the digestive juices, beginning in the mouth and continuing through he upper tract, to allow the gelatinous reaction to take place. Because of this upper tract digestive process, those who suffer from slow digestion, gas formation, relaxed cardia and heartburn in which the burning is due to organic acids instead of an excess of the normal hydrochloric acid, which frequently accompanies chronic inflammation disease affecting such organs as the heart, lungs, gall bladder and appendix, are usually restricted from eating raw foods. A hydrophilic colloid incorporated with these foods may be used either in connection with the patients regular food or with whatever diet the physician feels is best suited for his patient. The patient with gastric atony or nervous indigestion who complains of heartburn and/or vomiting four to five hours after eating is often helped. There is a lessening of emptying time if the stomach and an improvement in gastric tone.
Chia seed may be used in conjunction with almost any diet your doctor or nutritionist feels is necessary for your condition. The Chia’s hydrophilic colloidal properties aid the digestion of any foods contributing to the patients suffering as a result of a sour stomach. Even if you have sensitivity to certain foods, they may be tolerated with slight discomfort or none at all if a hydrophilic colloid is made a part of your diet. The positive effects on the digestion in the upper portion of the gastrointestinal tract often leads to puree their foods may find benefits from hydrophilic colloids which may lead to eliminating the necessity for pureeing. Even raw vegetables, green salads and fruits, which are largely restricted, may often be given to these patients with little or no discomfort after a short time.
There are several hydrophilic foods available that offer these natural benefits. Cactus juice, beet juice, agar, the edible seaweeds, and many proprietary preparations, which include the silica gels, mucilaginous substance of vegetables origin, are among colloids that prove effective. Each one of the above mentioned substances have one or more drawbacks. They are either too expensive, they may produce toxic side effects, bad tasting, not readily available, insufficient hydration capability, or it is indigestible.
Chia seed, a muscle and tissue builder and an energizer of endurance with extensive hydration properties, possesses none of the above disadvantage, and because if its physiochemical properties, supports effective treatment in immediate problems of digestion. Exactly why this should be true may be puzzling at first. However, if we consider the effect of unusual irritation upon the nerves of the gastrointestinal canal, it is reasonable the think that a less violent and more balanced digestion might quiet the activity of the otherwise hyperactive gut. Inasmuch as the same foods, which formerly produced irritation, may frequently be continued without harm when hydrophilic colloids are used. The relief to nerve irritation seems to offer a logical explanation.
The change, in the lower gastrointestinal tract, is due to the effect of the hydrophilic colloid and to a more complete digestion-taking place along the entire tract due to physiochemical alterations. Both factors are important, as there is undoubtedly a better assimilation of food that supports enhanced nutritional absorption while significantly extending necessary hydration as well as encouraging proper elimination.
As a source of protein, the Chia, after ingestion, is digested and absorbed very easily. This results in rapid transport to the tissue and utilization by the cells. This efficient assimilation makes the Chia very effective when rapid development of tissue takes place, primarily during growth periods if children and adolescents. Also for the growth and regeneration of tissue during pregnancy and lactation, and this would also include regeneration of muscle tissue for conditioning, athletes, weight lifters, etc.
Another unique quality if the Chia seed is its high oil content, and the richest vegetables source for the essential omega-3 fatty acid. It has approximately three to ten times the oil concentrations of most grains and one and a half to two times the protein concentrations of other grains. These oils, unsaturated fatty acids, are the essential oils your body needs to help emulsify and absorb the fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E, & K. Chia seeds are rich in the unsaturated fatty acid, linoleic, which the body cannot manufacture. When there are rich amounts of linoleic acid sufficiently supplied to the body trough diet, linoleic and arachidonic acids can be synthesized from linoleic acid.
Unsaturated fatty acids are important for respiration of vital organs and make it easier for oxygen to be transported by the blood stream to all cells, tissues, and organs. They also help maintain resilience and lubrication of all cells and combine with protein and cholesterol to form living membranes that hold the body cells together.
Unsaturated fatty acids are essential for normal glandular activity, especially of the adrenal glands and the thyroid glad. They nourish the skin cells and are essential for healthy mucus membranes and nerves. The unsaturated fatty acids function in the body by cooperating with vitamin D in making calcium available to the tissues, assisting in the assimilation of phosphorus, and stimulating the conversion of carotene into vitamin A. Fatty acids are related to normal functioning of the reproductive system. Chia sees contain beneficial long-chain triglycerides (LCT) in the right proportion to reduce cholesterol on arterial walls.
The Chia seed is also a rich source of calcium as it contains the important mineral boron, which acts as catalyst for the absorption and utilization of the calcium by the body.
Chia, as an ingredient, is a dieters dream food. There are limitless ways to incorporate the Chia seed into your diet. Chia must be prepared with pure water before using recipes. The seed will absorb 9 times it’s weight in water in less than 10 minutes and is very simple to prepare.
Food Extender/Calorie Displacer: The optimum ratio of water to seed, for most recipes, is 9 part water to 1 part seed. One pound if seed will make 10 pounds of Chia gel. This is the most unique structural quality of the Chia seed. The seed’s hydrophilic (water absorbing) saturated cells hold the water, so when it is mixed with foods, it displaces calories and fat without diluting flavor. In fact, I have found that because Chia gel displaces rather than dilutes, it creates more surface area and can actually enhance the flavor rather than dilute it. Chia gel also works as a fat replacer for many recipes.
Making Chia Gel (9 to 1 ratio): Put water in a sealable container and slowly pour seed into water while whisking briskly. This process will avoid any clumping of the seed. Wait a couple of minutes, whisk again and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Whisk again before using or storing in refrigerator (Gel will keep up to 2 weeks). You can add this mix to jams, jellies, hot or cold cereals, yogurts, mustard, catsup, tarter sauce, BBQ sauce, etc.. Add the gel, between 50% to 75% by volume, to any of the non-bake mentioned foods, mix well and taste. You will notice a very smooth texture with the integrity of the flavour intact. In addition to adding up to 50% to 75% more volume to the foods used, you have displaced calories and fat by incorporating an ingredient that is 90% water. Use as a fat replacer, for energy and endurance, or for added great taste, buy substituting the oil in your breads with Chia gel. Top your favorite bread dough before baking with Chia gel (for toping on baked goods, breads, cookies, piecrust, etc., reduce the water ration to 8 parts water to 1 part Chia seed) for added shelf life.
There are additional benefits from the Chia seed aside from the nutritive enhancements when used as an ingredient. It was also used by the Indians and missionaries as a poultice for gunshot wounds and other serious injuries. They would pack the wounds with Chia seeds to avoid infections and promote haling. If you place a seed or two in your eyes it will clean your eyes and will also help to clear up any infections. There is a wealth of benefits beyond the information outlined in this article and treasure-trove of benefits yet to be discovered. Chia seed, having a qualitatively unique situational richness along with a profound nutritive profile is one of man’s most useful and beneficial foods and is destined to be the Ancient Food of the Future.