Chia. We have seen it on hot summer days: they're those little black dots that float comfortably and don't seem to touch each other at the bottom of aguas frescas, especially limonadas. Here, we highlight the valuable chia seeds, a pre-Columbian superfood that has gained some recent popularity, especially for its many health benefits, but which origins are still somewhat nameless, and provide you with some recipes and ideas on how to incorporate this nutritious seed into your lifestyle. Read along to learn more!
This peculiar seed is native to Mexico and Guatemala. It is about 2 millimeters long, oval, and has a viscous texture that develops after a few minutes of hydrating it in liquid, forming a transparent and gelatinous layer around the seed.
Chia was a seed of great importance in pre-Columbian times, primarily for the Mayas and Mexicas who learned how to take advantage of its many culinary and medicinal benefits, and even incorporated it for artistic and religious purposes.
The medicinal and, above all, nutritional attributes of chia were already well known by the Mexica people long before the arrival of the Spaniards in the American continent. As Franciscan friar Bernadino de Sahagún explains in his chronicles “Historia general de las Cosas en la Nueva España”, chia seeds were considered a treasure and, as such, were offered to the corn and fertility goddess Chicomecoatl. Mexica warriors used to be honored with bags of chia seeds as a reward for their war exploits and given to their widows for their loss on the battlefields.
The numerous uses made chia one of the most used grains at the time of the Spanish conquest, becoming part of the four essential grains for the pre-Hispanic diet together with corn, beans, and amaranth.
Pre-Columbian civilizations cultivated this seed which, once harvested, were left to dry, roasted, and ground to later obtain from them a dense flour known as chianpinolli, with which they make different products, such as breads, cakes, soups, and even drinks like chianatole or chia atole.
With the arrival of the Europeans and the rapid and traumatic social transformation that pre-Columbian society underwent, the use of chia was somewhat forgotten. It remained as a relict crop, with a reduced distribution limited to some rural areas of Mexico and Guatemala.
However, this ancestral super-food has gradually gained popularity around the world and people have begun to incorporate it into their diets to reap the many benefits that this seed provides. In Mexico, chia is mostly seen in fresh lemon water; in Michoacán, it is used to make small tamales known as chapatas. Around the world, it is used to thicken jams, jellies, and yogurt. Its many culinary uses extend to baking, using it to cover the dough before baking and thus extend its shelf life and even used as a substitute for oil.
Now that we’ve addresses the history of this delicious superfood, here are some interesting facts about it:
- The word "chía" in Mayan means strength and the name of the state of Chiapas, which means "In the river of Chía," was given after this little seed.
- There are legends that say that, with just a tablespoon of these seeds, an Aztec warrior had enough strength to fight for 24 hours.
- The main producing states of chia in Mexico are Jalisco, Puebla, and Sinaloa.
- Chia is credited with having five times more calcium than whole milk and two times more potassium than bananas.
- These seeds are high in Omega 3, beneficial for brain health and to prevent arthritis and heart disease.
- Due to their high fiber content, if you consume them daily, chia seeds will help improve digestion, as they regulate intestinal function.
- They are also rich in antioxidants that protect us from free radicals, aging, and cancer, not to mention that they are also an important source of calcium, manganese, and phosphorus.
- Chia seeds are gluten-free, so they are ideal for a celiac diet.
- They are highly recommended for diabetics because they prevent blood sugar spikes.
- They are a great source of protein for vegetarians, rich in tryptophan – an amino acid that regulates appetite, sleep, and improves mood.
Do you want to incorporate chia seeds into your diet? Here are three quick and easy recipes for you to start using chia seeds more frequently!
Limeade with Chia, Agua de Limón con Chia perfect as a refreshing agua fresca any time during the day.
For 4 cups (1 liter)
10 green limes
1 tbs of chia seeds
6 cups of water (4 for water, 2 for soaking chia)
Sugar to taste
Soak chia seeds in two cups of water for at least 30 minutes or until it swells and releases the gelatin around it.
Cut and squeeze limes.
Mix lime juice with water and add sugar.
Add chia seeds and mix.
Chill and serve.
Overnight Strawberry Chia Pudding the perfect breakfast or dessert.
¾ cup of milk (any kind)
2tbs chia seeds
4 strawberries (fresh or frozen)
Optional: sweetener (dates, maple syrup, sugar, Splenda/stevia, etc)
Blend milk and strawberries together. If you wish, you can add sweetener to taste with agave syrup, honey, date paste, sugar, or whichever sweetener you prefer.
Using a spoon, mix the chia with the “strawberry milk” very well to prevent lumps from forming as the chia hydrates.
Chill in freezer overnight. If in a rush, at least 5 hours are recommended so that the chia seeds will have time to hydrate, and the pudding thickens to the desire consistency.
Serve the pudding in two small glasses or bowls and cover with a little yogurt and crunchy granola on top to add texture.
You can skip yogurt if looking to make this a vegan dish.
Add different fruits to the mix, like mango or bananas. You can also chop them up in small pieces and sprinkle on top.
Carrot Salad with Chia, a delicious side dish or snack.
4 carrots (grated)
2 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
1 tbsp curry powder
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel and grate carrots and
For the dressing mix olive oil, lime juice, ginger, curry, and chia seeds in a bowl.
Add dressing to carrots.
Incorporate all ingredients in a bowl.
Add salt and pepper to taste, mix one last time and serve.
-Add two or three teaspoons of chia seeds, some nuts, and some honey to any fruit salad.
-Add a tablespoon to any agua fresca, juice, smoothie, or any fruity drink.
-Take a natural yogurt and sprinkle the chia seeds on top, mixing them well, to add more nutritional value.
-If you have a bowl of cereal for breakfast in the morning, you can sprinkle some chia seeds on top.
-In any recipe that requires breading, you can mix the breadcrumbs with chia seeds to give the dish a very nutritional value.
-If you practice sports, mixing coconut water with chia seeds produces an ideal homemade sports drink to recover strength after exercise.
So, what do you think? Did you know the origin of chia seeds? Do you plan on incorporating them into your diet? In what other ways have you used chia? We look forward to reading your comments in the comment section below! You know we are always delighted to read your opinions!
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