For some, Chia's history jumps from a present time of culinary celebration and extends back to the 1980s, when Chia was nothing more than a decorative component of “pet” terra cotta figurines covered in Chia sprouts. But all joke gifts aside, Chia has enjoyed a drastically more significant usage and much longer narrative than just a desk ornament!
From a botanical standpoint, Chia is considered an herb, and is a member of the mint family. It is native to central and southern Mexico, including the region of what is now Guatemala. A hearty plant that thrives in heat, the first cultivation of Chia was by the Aztecs around 2600-3500 B.C. From that point onward, Chia was highly treasured, often incorporated into religious gatherings and even considered a valued form of currency.
Beyond celebratory rituals and trade deals, Chia was first and foremost a staple food crop that was used as regularly as maize and beans in the Aztec diet. Chia Seeds were eaten whole or ground into a fine flour and used in a variety of ways: mixed into water as a drink, made into a gruel, incorporated with other grains and baked into flatbread, and even used as medicine. Although Chia was commonplace in the Aztec diet overall, it was most famously consumed by warriors and athletes as a go-to source of energy and endurance. Often consumed in competitions and situations of extreme perseverance, it was purported that an athlete could sustain intense physical output by eating nothing more than a tablespoon of Chia every few hours.
Incredibly, all later explorations of Chia and its uses stem from these early days. Though many of the traditions of the Aztec region were suppressed with the invasion of Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s, modern nutrition science shows just how advanced these ancient cultures were in their ability to maintain a balanced diet. Chia, with its healthy fats, antioxidants, minerals and high fiber, is just as valuable today (if not more) as it was thousands of years ago for overall health, vitality and energy.
Click here for our favorite ways to use Chia in recipes and tell us how you use the nutrient-dense superfood in comments below!