If we could step out of a time machine set to a date back a decade or so ago, the word “chia” would almost immediately be followed by “pet.” End of story. But this surprising little seed has come a long way from its day as a kitschy office Christmas gift—and has even more growth planned. Sales of chia seeds are estimated to hit $1.1 billion by 2020. And considering that chia seeds have only really been a buzz food for the last half-decade, that’s pretty impressive.
Food ingredients are no longer boring commodities—they’re superstars in their own right. Take kale, the glorious leafy green that’s become synonymous with hipster cuisine and raw food enthusiasm. Or berries. Raw almonds. Chocolate. But chia seeds may just be the surprise winner of the superfood world, according to Food Navigator. The chia seed category is growing at 239 percent with sales booming in the U.S. and Australia. It’s a buzz ingredient that is sprouting up in almost every category—from cookies and snacks to cereals and juices.
Grown primarily in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, the omega-fatty acid-rich seed is also extremely high in protein, making it an ideal food for vegans and vegetarians. It’s also gluten-free.
Like quinoa, chia has been a staple food throughout its native region. U.S. quinoa demand has made the grain too expensive for some Bolivians—including those who grow it for export. Chia growers hope to avoid regional shortages and issues that have plagued the quinoa industry and have created the Chia Council, “a regional organization to promote good trade practices, centralize all scientific information, and to collect market data to enable a better organization and communication,” reports Food Navigator.
As chia has its day in the spotlight, you can plan on seeing its presence in foods announced boldly across product packages (“now with chia!”) and touted as a miracle food. And while its benefits are deserving of the attention, it’s still at its healthiest when it’s unprocessed, or processed by you at home in your kitchen instead of in a factory. And, of course, it still also makes a really cute pet.
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