ORGULLO LATINOReading time: 4 minutes
Chia seeds have recently joined avocados in the “superfood” category. But Latinos have appreciated their powers for centuries.
For thousands of years, chia seeds have been consumed by indigenous people in Central and South America.
The ancient Aztecs and Mayans made them an important part of their diet. They were known to have used chia seeds as a source of sustenance, energy, and medicine.
In fact, they were so valuable to ancient civilizations that, in addition to being used in a variety of dishes and drinks, they were also used in religious ceremonies and even as a form of currency.
As time went on, chia seeds remained a staple food across Latin America, used in a range of dishes and drinks, including chia fresca made with chia seeds, lime juice, and water.
However, in recent years, chia seeds have soared in popularity. Aided by social media and a renewed focus on healthy living, our much-loved ingredient has been adopted as a “superfood” around the world, appearing in everything from yogurts to cookies. (They haven’t reappeared as a currency just yet.)
They are often added to boost the nutritional value of a dish. But they are also great for adding flavor and texture.
This is a guide on how to eat chia seeds from those who grew up with them long before they became a global trend.
What are chia seeds?
But first up, what exactly are chia seeds?
Chia is a tiny, oval-shaped, edible seed that comes from the desert plant Salvia hispanica. It belongs to the Labiatae Lamiaceae family, along with mint, thyme, and oregano, and grows predominantly in southern and central Mexico and Guatemala.
There are several theories about the meaning of the word "chia". Anthropologists know that it is a Nahuatl word (Native American language family), however, some assign it the sense of "strength", while others say it is a Spanish adaptation of the term chían or chien (plural), which means "seed from which oil is obtained".
Although chia is a new product for many, the reality is that its use dates to 3,500 BC. The Mayan civilization used it extensively as a food source, and it was prized for its ability to provide nutrition and endurance.
It was a staple in their diet and fueled warriors and athletes who needed long-lasting energy. Mesoamerican cultures used chia as food, medicine, and offering to the gods and raw materials to make oil as a base for decorative paints.
In ancient times, toasted chia flour was used to make a kind of tamal and in chia fresca which, with variations, survives today.
Are chia seeds nutritious?
Chia seeds are, by modern definitions, a true superfood.
Packed with omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, and minerals, they have it all. Just one ounce (about two tablespoons) of chia seeds contains 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and more.
Fun fact: that same one-ounce serving also contains more calcium than a glass of milk! Not to mention chia seeds' high antioxidant content, which can help protect the body from free radical damage.
It's a seed with real superpowers. As Aztecs and Mayans recognized, chia seeds also offer an energy boost. Just two tablespoons of chia seeds contain about 140 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrates, all the fuel you need to get through the day.
What are the other benefits of chia seeds?
For centuries, indigenous populations throughout the Americas have used chia seeds as a natural remedy for various ailments.
The Aztecs believed chia could bring energy and strength, while the Mayans used tiny seeds to improve their health.
Today, modern science is backing up some of these traditional beliefs, as research has shown that chia seeds are packed with essential nutrients and can offer a range of health benefits.
Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants, which can help protect the body from oxidative stress and reduce inflammation.
Studies have also shown that chia consumption can help regulate blood sugar levels, maintain healthy cholesterol levels and improve digestion.
In addition, chia may be beneficial for those who want to lose weight, as the soluble fiber promotes satiety and may help curb cravings.
How to eat chia seeds
Chia seeds are a versatile superfood that can be used in a wide variety of recipes and for many health benefits.
One of the most popular ways to use chia seeds is by adding them to smoothies or yogurts to give them a nutritional boost. It can also be added to salads, cereals, and baked goods, or even to give tortillas an extra delicious crunch.
Another way to enjoy the benefits of chia is to prepare chia pudding.
Simply mix chia seeds with almond milk, the sweetener of your choice, and any other desired flavor such as vanilla or cinnamon. Refrigerate it overnight, or until it thickens, and you have a delicious and healthy dessert.
Chia seeds can also be used as an egg substitute in vegan recipes. Simply mix one tablespoon of ground chia with three tablespoons of water, and let it sit for a few minutes to thicken. This mixture can be used in place of an egg in a recipe.
Chia seeds are an essential part of the diet for many Latinos and, increasingly, others around the globe. They’re delicious, nutritional, and have the coveted title of being one of the world’s oldest, original superfoods.