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Chia seeds’ stealth takeover

Chia Pods in Whole FoodsWe’re declaring it: Chia seeds are the new avocado.

The formerly obscure seeds beloved by ancient civilizations are now a superfood staple of modern urbanities. Lauded for their omega 3s, fiber, and protein, chia seeds are fast becoming a culinary darling among healthy types. Warning: If you haven’t been offered a chia smoothie yet, your chia-free days are numbered.

And it’s not just the seed form that people are flipping for. Chia seeds are now found in nearly every section of the grocery store—including the beauty aisle. You can find chia bars, chia oil, and chilled chia snacks. Innovative chefs are adding it to their menus—witness the Chia Seed Muffin, one of Pain Quotidien’s most popular bakery items (which online recipe writers love to try to replicate). Just how did this happen?

HISTORY

Chia’s got a rich history, starting with its pre-Colombian past as a food that fueled Aztec warriors. And, in Born to Run, Christopher MacDougall explains how the long-distance Tarahumara runners of Mexico chowed on chia. The backstory lent itself to awesome possibility—and marketing with mass appeal.

WHO IS CHIA FOR?

Chia’s a shape-shifter of the Safeway and a chameleon of the Kroger. (And if you don’t see them in those groceries, it’s just a matter of minutes.) It’s got a masculine or sporty side (Health Warrior bars) and a feminine side (Mama Chia beverages and squeezable Vitality Snacks). Both call to the marathon-running athlete and the health-conscious woman working marathon hours. And in between, there’s a healthy, culinary middle range. More on that in a minute.

NUTRITION PROFILE

Chia shotsChia’s nutrient density—high omega 3s, loads of fiber (5g per serving), and nice bump of protein (3g)—and its capacity to expand (and become a tad gelantinous like tapioca) provide stamina, endurance, and a feeling of satiety, says Dan Gluck, co-founder of Health Warrior. (So it’s no wonder chia’s also beloved by women looking to stay trim and away from the office cupcakes and vending machine.) It contains all 10 essential amino acids that you must get through your diet, so it’s considered a top source of complete plant-based protein; and it has an impressive amount of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

CHIA’S CULINARY CRED

Lately it’s been looking more culinary, with chefs sprinkling it on salads, bakers turning out chia muffins, and a stateside newcomer, The Chia Co., a company based in Australia. It sustainably farms the salvia Hispanica in the equatorial Kimberly region. (“It’s a latitude specific crop that grows best and achieves optimum omega 3 levels at 15 degrees from the equator,” explains The Chia Co. CEO John Foss.)

And from its harvest The Chia Co. makes Chia Shots that slide out of a skinny packet into a smoothie or over yogurt, a Chia Oil that can be drizzled over greens, and to-die-for chia pudding called Chia Pods (made from just a few all-natural ingredients) that just launched in Whole Foods. Its peppy, poppy orange packaging looks a piece with an edgy urbanite’s set of Le Creuset pots and Breville Juicer.

CHIA HITS THE BEAUTY AISLE

One Love Organics Chia SetSuzanne LeRoux, the co-founder and formulator of One Love Organics, has long been a cheerleader of chia for weight-management reasons, she says—but she really became obsessed with “supercritically extracted” chia seed oil as an amazing skin-care ingredient.

This oil has a lot going for it, LeRoux explains. “It’s loaded with nourishing omega 3s and antioxidants like alpha lipoic acid that helps minimize wrinkles and pores, while boosting radiance—and it absorbs quickly. It’s been amazingly effective for my red, breakout prone sensitive skin,” she says. Then after reading this study, LeRoux became convinced it was her miracle ingredient. Chia now stars in One Love’s Skin Savior Balm, Supercritical Chia Oil, and Chia Whip, which make up the Superfood Set.

THE TAKEAWAY

So are we just at the beginning of tapping the nutrients—and potential—of chia? Or is this a fad that will fade?

The Chia Co.’s Foss thinks it’s just the beginning. “Many people are just now learning the benefits of this tiny, nutrient-dense seed. Chia is not a fad; it’s for everyone that wants to be healthier, more energized and look and feel better. And it’s real food, which will make it endure.” —Melisse Gelula

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