Chia (Salvia hispanica) History and Background

Chia (Salvia hispanica L ) is a summer annual herbaceous plant belonging to the mint family (Lamiaceae) some of which are known as “sage”.

Chia grains are oval and about 2mm long with irregular dark red-brown markings over a brown to black base.

Chia SeedsCultivated for centuries by the Aztecs of Mexico and the Indians of the Southwest of America, these tiny seeds formed part of their staple diet.

In fact they were so highly prized that for a time they were used as currency.

Aztec warriors were said to use Chia to as a high energy 'supplement' on their conquest. The Indians of the south west would eat as little as a teaspoon full when going on a 24hr. forced march.

Chia was one of the main components of not only the Aztec diet, but also of another great Pre-Columbian civilization that developed in Mesoamerica, the Mayan. The Mexican State of Chiapas, located within the limits of ancient Mayan territory, derives its name from the Nahuatl word Chiapan that means "river of chia". Hence the development of chia as a crop in this region also extends from very early times.

In fact Chia is still a traditional food of the Tarahumara and Chumash peoples of Chiuahua, in the southwestern part of Mexico. They roast, crush, and mix the seeds with water to make a Gel, which they call their 'running food'.

Today, chia seeds are consumed by small groups of people. Mixed in a lemonade it is made into a refreshing beverage in the Southern USA (California and Arizona) as well as in Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

It is interesting that 500 years later, modern science has concluded that Pre-Columbian diets were superior to present diets. Forced into obscurity, chia seeds now offer a new opportunity to improve human nutrition by providing a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and dietary fiber.

Chia has a long history as a human food, starting with its domestication by Ancient Mexicans in 2,600 B.C. Amaranth, beans, chia, and corn comprised the main components of the Aztec and Mayan civilization’s diets when Columbus arrived in the New World. Many people are still using this ancient grain today in the preparation of a popular and refreshing beverage called “chia fresca”. This is consumed in Mexico, Central America, as well as in California and Arizona in the US.


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