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Chia History: Chia Seeds + Their Uses Through The Ages

Chia seeds are pretty wonderful. If you’re looking to get fit, eat healthily, or are working on a vegan diet, then you’ve probably come across these little seeds before.

They’re known today as a “superfood” and “a miracle” due to their fast acting nutritional value. They’re a valuable source of fiber, as well as healthy omega-3 and other antioxidants.

Chia History: Chia Seeds + Their Uses Through The Ages

Chia seeds have been linked to improved heart and gut health and are over all just a great food to keep in your pantry (see also “What Was The FDAs Ruling On Chia Seeds?“). 

But where did they come from? I swear just a few years ago, chia seeds were only used to grow moss in weird shapes, how did they become a staple of every endurance runner and health guru’s diet? 

Well, to figure that out, we need to go back 4000 years. All the way back to the ancient Aztecs and Mayans.

Ancient History

Back in ancient Mesoamerican times, chia seeds were a massive part of the Mayan and Aztecs’ diet.

In fact, it has been documented that some warriors would take a small pouch-full of chia seeds, and this would sustain them for days. 

But it wasn’t just warriors that knew the benefits of this incredible little seed.

Everyday, the people of the ancient civilizations were consuming chia seeds, either mixing them with water to make the gelatinous substance that you might be familiar with, or grinding them down to make flour for flatbreads. 

Something amazing that the ancient Aztecs gave us, before they were decimated by invading Europeans, was the Codex Mendoza.

This text, written in the native language of Nahuatl, demonstrated that these people were cultivating and growing maize, beans, and squash, as well as chia seeds – all this, long before Columbus and other invaders arrived. 

We can see where they used to grow their food, and the methods they followed to grow massive harvests every year. 

Enter The Europeans

Of course, like every other marvel of the ancient Mesoamerican world, the Europeans felt entitled to Chia seeds, though they were a hard sell.

Though Columbus and his conquistadors quickly wiped out a large percentage of the population of the ancient civilizations, enough managed to survive to keep the culture alive. 

Part of this culture included the survival of the chia seed, which continued to thrive for the next few hundred years, eventually leading it to be found in supermarket shelves. 

The Hard European Sell 

The Hard European Sell 

As I mentioned, it was a hard sell to get Europeans to get on board with Chia Seeds – they were “strange and foreign”, the jelly-like mixture seeming unappetizing to a lot of people.

It wasn’t actually until the late 1990s that chia seeds started to be imported to Europe from Central America – this is why it feels like they appeared out of nowhere, because for Europe and the rest of the world, they kind of did. 

In 2009, the EU approved chia seeds as a ‘novel food’, meaning they could start including it in more foods over there and increase the popularity.

Though the seed is still kind of rare in a lot of European diets, the popularity and fame it’s gaining from viral trends are doing a lot to put it more in the mind of Europeans. 

Chia Pets

I mentioned growing moss in weird shapes earlier, and this might have been something that you were familiar with. Throughout the late 70s and 80s, Chia Pets were incredibly popular.

Because the seeds sprout really quickly and without the need for soil, you can smear them with a bit of water on terracotta animals or figures and when the moss grows, it looks like hair of fur. 

For a long time, this was the most commonly known use for chia seeds in the Western world.

In fact, in 2010, only an estimated 27% of Americans knew that you could actually eat chia seeds. In just 4 years, that number grew to nearly 40%. 

Chia seed producers believe that the demand and supply of chia seeds is going to continue to grow exponentially as they become more popular as a result of viral trends and their label as being a superfood. 

Modern Use

Nowadays, you’re likely to see chia seeds used in smoothies, or sprinkled over the top of a nice meal.

They can also be ground up and added to flour in other baked goods whilst still providing their awesome effects. 

The very interesting thing about chia seeds is that they are incredibly hygroscopic. This means that they absorb a lot of water.

Just one seed can take in over 12 times its weight in liquid. When combined with water, they create a jelly-like texture, similar to tapioca. 

They’re popular in smoothies because they are packed with fiber and other nutrients, as well as adding a thickness to otherwise watery blends of fruit. 

You can also use chia eggs to replace eggs in a lot of recipes, making them perfect for vegans or vegetarians to use whilst baking. 

Another use for these seeds is as a treatment for constipation. Thanks to their high fiber content, a solution of water and chia seeds can really help get the cogs moving again and help you loosen up. 

Final Thoughts

Chia seeds are only becoming more popular as time goes on, and it’s all thanks to the intelligence and enduring spirits of native Aztec and Mayan people.

Their ingenuity has provided a lot to our modern world, including the humble chia seed. 

Now you know the full history of chia seeds throughout time, so the next time you’re mixing these seeds into your smoothie, or making a delicious chia bowl, take some time to appreciate where they’ve come from, and how far they’ve come.

Then, you can prepare your body for all of the good things that the chia seeds are about to do for you.

Justin Roberts