s [ Chia Seed: From Ancient Mayan Staple to Modern Superfood ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company
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Chia seed is obtained from the Mexican native chia plant (Salvia hispanica), so named after the Mayan word meaning “strength.” It would seem that the plant was aptly named since the seeds were known by several indigenous peoples to promote endurance.
In fact, chia seed was often the only source of nutrition consumed by the ancient Aztecs and southwestern tribes of the U.S. while traveling great distances in pursuit of conquest or trade. This tradition does not appear to have been lost since many athletes regularly partake of chia seed to help increase stamina and performance today.

[ Chia Seed: codices and chia ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

a. cultivated currency

Domesticated in the valley of Mexico as early as 2,700 B.C., chia seeds served as a primary staple food of the Nahuatl (Aztec), Mayan, Incan and other indigenous peoples.

Its cultivation is referenced in the Florentine Codex—the twelve volume research manuscript including more than 2,000 natively-drawn illustrations meant to document the culture and natural history of the Aztec people. The Mendoza Codex, a similarly themed tome also referenced the plant's cultivation and that it could be found in roughly 80% of the Aztec states at the time of the writing. Also inferred from the codices is the notion that these seeds were so highly prized that they were used as currency as well as offered to gods along with other life-sustaining crops.

One spoon of seed in water was used to supply sustenance for an entire day of hard labor. Related to the Nahuatl words Chiapan, meaning "river of chia" (possibly in relation to its broad cultivation); and chia, meaning "energy" or "strength".

Traditionally and presently used by the Tarahumara and Chumash of Chihuahua, the seed is roasted, crushed, and mixed with water for a gel of extremely high nutritional value used as performance food. In California, Arizona, Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua it was, and is, mixed with a lemonade. The ground seed meal was called pinole.

[ Chia Seed: watering it down ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

b. absorbing the nutrition

Nutritionally speaking, chia seed packs a wallop. Aside from consisting of about 30% protein, chia seed delivers an abundance of vitamins A, B, D, E and K. They also contain alpha-linolenic and linoleic acid, essential fatty acids that the body cannot manufacture on its own. In terms of other nutrients and minerals, the list is lengthy. A run down by alphabetical order: calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, silicon, sodium, sulfur, thiamine, and zinc. Finally, chia seed is the richest plant-based source of omega-3 available.

Chia seed is also an excellence source of soluble fiber. In fact, due to its hydrophilic properties it can absorb up to 12 times its volume in water. This activity has two benefits. First, it helps to keep the body hydrated, which is important for proper cellular metabolism and renewal. Secondly, it reduces transit time in the gastrointestinal tract while enhancing the absorption of vitamins and minerals.

The hydrophilic properties of chia seed also permit the formation of hydrophilic colloids, a mucilaginous substance similar in appearance to gelatin. This is the same benefit obtained from eating raw vegetables versus cooked, only it’s not necessary to swallow a bunch of chia seeds in order for this event take place. As you’ll learn in a moment, all that’s needed is a container of water.