“Ch-ch-ch-chia” may be a familiar jingle if you grew up during the 1980s. Little did we know that those popular ceramic pets sprouting grass “hair” were a foretelling of the even greater success their seeds would have in edible form 25 years later. Chia seeds are often referred to as a “superfood” or functional food—unregulated terms more useful in the marketing sphere than by nutrition experts who understand that there is no magic bullet or replacement for a healthful dietary pattern that relies on a variety of nutritious foods.
Functional foods are touted to offer benefits beyond their nutritional value, such as lowering cholesterol or improving gut health. Not only listed as such, chia seeds are also used as a functional ingredient, added to less nutritious items like baked pastries and snacks, to improve their appeal to health-conscious consumers. Health claims about chia seeds include reducing appetite and weight, lowering triglycerides, and improving blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes.
Chia seeds come from the plant Salvia hispanica L., and were at one time a major food crop in Mexico and Guatemala. Cultivated as a food source as early as 3500 BC, it was offered to Aztec gods in religious ceremonies. According to industry reports, the chia seed market is projected to reach more than 2 billion USD in sales by 2022.