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Salvia hispanica

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Salvia
Species: S. hispanica
Binomial name
Salvia hispanica

Chia (Salvia hispanica) is a plant of the genus Salvia in the Mint family. It originated in the central Valley of Mexico. It was largely cultivated by the Aztecs in prehispanic times and was one of the five more important food plants in that time. After the arrival of the spaniards, the plant was almost extincted, because of cultural and religious reasons.

Chia is grown commercially for its seed, a food that is very rich in omega-3 fatty acids, since it is the vegetable source with the most Omega 3 content, specifically α-linolenic acid or ALA. It also adds antioxidants and a variety of vitamins, minerals and fiber. For all these health related benefits, chia is in the process of application before the EU authorities to be considered as a novel food.



The word chia is derived from the Aztec word chian, meaning oily[1]. The present Mexican state of Chiapas got its name from the Nahua "chia water or river". The species was named hispanica ("of Spain") because Linnaeus described the species from cultivated plants in Spain.


Chia is an annual herb growing to 1 m tall, with opposite leaves 4–8 cm long and 3–5 cm broad. Its flowers are purple or white and are produced in numerous clusters in a spike at the end of each stem[2].

Chia seed

  Chia seeds are typically small ovals with a diameter of about one millimeter. They are mottle-colored with brown, gray, black and white. Chia seeds typically contain 20% protein, 34% oil, 25% dietary fiber (mostly soluble with high molecular weight), and significant levels of antioxidants (chlorogenic and caffeic acids, myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol flavonols). The oil from chia seeds contains a very high concentration of omega-3 fatty acid — approximately 64%.[5] Chia seeds contain no gluten and trace levels of sodium[2]. There are no known toxic components of chia.

Chia seed is traditionally consumed in Mexico, the southwestern United States, and South America, but is not widely known in Europe. The United States Food and Drug Administration regards chia as a food with an established history of safe consumption.

Historically, chia seeds served as a staple food of the Nahuatl (Aztec) cultures of Central Mexico. Jesuit chroniclers referred to chia as the third most important crop to the Aztecs behind only corn and beans, and ahead of amaranth. Tribute and taxes to the Aztec priesthood and nobility were often paid in chia seed[1][3].

Today, chia is grown commercially in its native Mexico, and in Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, and Guatemala. A similar species, golden chia, is used in the same way but not widely grown commercially.

Food preparation

Chia seed may be eaten raw as a dietary fiber and omega-3 supplement. Grinding chia seeds produces a meal called pinole, which can be made into porridge or cakes. Chia seeds soaked in water or fruit juice is also often consumed and is known in Mexico as chia fresca. The soaked seeds are gelatinous in texture and are used in gruels, porridges and puddings. Ground chia seed is used in baked goods including breads, cakes and biscuits.

Chia sprouts are used in a similar manner as alfalfa sprouts in salads, sandwiches and other dishes. Chia sprouts are sometimes grown on porous clay figurines which has led to the popular (U.S.) cultural icon of the chia pet.


  1. a b Anderson, A.J.O. and Dibble, C.E. "An Ethnobiography of the Nahuatl", The Florentine Codex, (translation of the work by Fr. Bernardino de Sahagún), Books 10-11, from the Period 1558-1569
  2. a b Ayerza, Ricardo and Coates, Wayne "Chia - rediscovering a forgotten crop of the Aztecs" The University of Arizona Press (2005)
  3. a Cahill, Joseph, "Ethnobotany of Chia, Salvia hispanica L.(Lamiaceae), Economic Botany 57(4) pp. 604-618 (2003)
  4. a Seed Oil Fatty Acids - SOFA Database Retrieval
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Salvia_hispanica". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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