What is Chia? Get to Know It Through and Through Here

In this blog we’ll show you the characteristics of chia, its main types, properties, history, main exporters and importers, how it is cultivated, and some products made from this seed. Don’t miss it!  

What is chia and what are its characteristics?   

Scientific nameSalvia hispanica
Common nameChia
Place of originCentral and southern Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
HabitatTemperate and humid temperatures. Dry soils.
DistributionAsia, Europe, South America, Africa and North America.

Characteristics of the chia plant

It is a plant species of the sage genus (Salvia) within the mint family (Lamiaceae), originally found almost exclusively in Mexico and Central America.

It is an annual life cycle plant. This species reaches a growing height of up to 1.75 meters. Its light green stem has four divisions, rounded edges, sparsely branched and hairy. The leaves are 4 to 8 cm long and 3 to 5 cm wide, growing crosswise, ovate, finely toothed forward, pointed, green, with a pale green underside, finely hairy, simple, undivided, with finely hairy stems.

The buds are light green at first but become darker with time. The petal is violet-blue or white. The colored flowers usually have a whitish spot with dark purple dots.

This plant has 6 or more flowers that can be more than 20 cm long.

Description of the fruit

After the flowers have faded, the mature fruit capsules turn light brown, first on the central inflorescence. They are located inside the flower.

Klausen fruits (fruits obtained by decomposing) of four parts are formed. When ripe, they split into very small pieces (2 mm long and 1.25 mm wide on average), are brown, gray, white or black, have spots with protuberances and are cracked with stripes; the seeds that are used as cereal are smooth, shiny and oval. White Klausen fruits are slightly larger and lighter in color, and are only produced by white flowering plants.

Klausen is very light; the bulk density is 0.667-0.722 g/cm³, and the mass of a thousand grains is only about 1.3-2 g and therefore is in the range of quinoa and amaranth. Hermit Klausen can absorb more than ten times their weight in water.

Types of chia

There are generally 4 types or varieties of chia that are not accepted by all botanists, these are:

  • Salvia columbariae variety argilacea.
  • Salvia columbariae variety ziegleri Munz
  • Salvia columbariae variety bernardina
  • California chia

Today we talk a little about the first 2 since they are the main ones.

Salvia columbariae argilacea variety

This variety has white flowers and green leaves and grows at higher elevations from 1300 to 1700 meters. It is only present in Washington County and Kane County, Utah.

Salvia columbariae variety ziegleri Munz

This type of chia grows until summer or early fall, where it has somewhat thicker leaves and smaller flowers. It is only found in the San Jacinto Mountains, California.

Properties and benefits of chia

Nutritional profile of chia

Take a look at the nutritional table of chia per 100g, taken from Vegaffinity.

CompositionQuantity (gr)CDR(%)
MineralsQuantity (mg)CDR(%)
VitaminsQuantity (mg)CDR(%)
Vitamin A364000%
Vitamin B10.8772.5%
Vitamin B20.1713.1%
Vitamin B35.820%
Vitamin B1200%
Vitamin C15.717.4%

5 properties of chia that you have to take advantage of

The seeds contain many important vitamins

Chia seeds contain the B group vitamins (1-3), as well as vitamins A and E. B vitamins, are responsible for supporting metabolic processes in the human body and are therefore part of an important aspect of nutrition. They are involved in the DNA repair process as well as energy conversion in the body.

Vitamin A is known to be good for eye function. It also helps strengthen the immune system. Vitamin E, on the other hand, is essential for the metabolism of fats in the human body, among other things, and must therefore be consumed regularly.

They have a high nutrient density

Very few foods have such a high density of macronutrients as chia seeds. These ensure that our body receives energy and that we can achieve optimal performance. The macronutrients in chia seeds break down as follows per 100 grams:

  • 21 grams of protein
  • 31 grams of fat
  • 38 grams of carbohydrates

If you are wondering about the relatively high-fat content of chia seeds and are concerned that, as a result, the seeds are unhealthy, then you should take a closer look at the following point.

They contain essential fatty acids

Chia seeds are largely composed of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. These have a number of functions that are useful for our body, such as lowering blood pressure and blood lipid levels. They also help regulate cholesterol levels and improve overall blood circulation in the human body. Last but not least, omega-3 fatty acids support brain and nervous system function.

In addition, chia seeds also contain omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in a ratio of 1:3 to omega-3 fatty acids. This distribution can also be described as ideal since an excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids can increase the risk of heart disease.

They are rich in minerals and trace elements.

Chia seeds contain a wide variety of important nutrients such as calcium, iron, copper, phosphorus, and manganese. These substances are essential for the functioning of our musculoskeletal system, especially for the development of bone tissue and muscle function.

Other functions include supporting blood clotting and the red blood cell regeneration process. It also supports brain and nervous system function.

Fiber in chia seeds is essential for a healthy body.

Fiber is a low-calorie substance that the body cannot use to generate energy. However, it still plays an important role in our body’s functions, especially in our digestive system. Due to the ability of chia seeds to absorb a large amount of water, this extra volume stimulates muscle activity in the intestine.

Soaking chia seeds in water can keep your body hydrated for a long time as well. If chia seeds are taken raw, the fiber they contain can bind toxins and acids in the body. In this way, chia seeds contribute to the detoxification of the body and maintain the acid-alkaline balance.

History and origin of chia

In pre-Hispanic times, S. hispanica was an important agricultural product in Mexico, used for food, medicine and oil production. According to economic historians, chia was as important as corn as a staple food, and even more important locally. It was cultivated before the inhabitants by the Teotihuacans and later by the Toltecs, but curiously not by the Maya.

Sixteenth-century Aztec manuscripts, such as the Codex Mendoza and Codex Florentinus, provide ample information on the use of chia and indicate that arable land was used extensively for its cultivation. Twenty-one of the last 38 tributary provinces of the Aztec Empire gave chia as tribute; however, after the Aztecs were subdued by the Spanish conquistadors, chia cultivation quickly collapsed.

A botanical review of 16th century and later sources suggests that the chia was predominantly used for medicinal purposes; chia (mainly the seeds, only some other parts of the plant) is described as a part or ingredient of recipes. The diseases to be treated were often described imprecisely and cannot be assigned to any diagnosis today. Idol sculptures were also made from chia dough to eat after ceremonies.

Whole and ground seeds, as well as mucilage and seed oil, were used for nutrition. In pre-Hispanic times it was common to toast the seeds and grind them to obtain a flour called chianpinolli, which had a similar processing to corn, with this flour was also processed chia. This flour was used to make tortillas, tzoalli (tamales) and various beverages such as chianatolli. After 1600, a soft drink made from its whole seeds became more popular. At its peak of consumption in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was offered by street vendors and innkeepers throughout Mexico. Unlike beverages for medical purposes, its water content was higher and the consistency was lighter; lemon and sugar or fruit juice was added. This preparation is still known today as “Agua de Chia” or “Chia fresca” (also Iskiate). The consumption of ground chia, on the other hand, has generally fallen into disuse. As a result, many of the earlier varieties have disappeared.

Only in 1997 did it regain recognition thanks to 52-year-old Tarahumara Indian Cirildo Chacarito, who won a 100-mile race in the United States. American Christopher McDougall then published the book Born to Run, which started the chia boom.

Chia oil was used for cosmetic and artistic purposes. In particular, handmade pots used to be, and still are, treated with a varnish made from chia oil to create a shiny surface. Chia oil was also the raw material for body paint.

Global chia industry

Meet the top exporters and importers of chia in the world.  

Top chia exporters in the world in 2020

In the following chart, you can see the top 10 countries that exported chia by 2020 according to FAO. On the other hand, FAO also provides information on which countries have the highest monetary volume in exports, specifically in U.S. dollars in 2020. Let’s see what they are:

Top importers of chia in the world in 2020.

In the following chart, you can see the 10 countries that imported the most chia for the year 2020 according to FAO. In addition, FAO also provides information on which countries have the highest monetary volume in imports, specifically in U.S. dollars in the year 2020. Let’s see what they are:

How is chia cultivated?

To grow this nut, there are a number of requirements that must be taken into account. Below, we will show you what they are:   


It prefers well-drained soil, well aerated, nitrogenous, rich in nutrients, not too salty, sandy, sandy loam, not too humid and a protected and sunny place. Soil pH range should be 5 to 8.5.


It grows in tropical to subtropical regions, is frost sensitive, but drought resistant and can thrive in arid areas. It needs a temperature range of 11°C to 36°C, with an optimum of 16°C to 26°C.

Method of planting chia

  1. To plant chia, the seeds must first be pre-germinated. To do so, pour plenty of water over a tablespoon of seeds and let them swell by absorbing it for a few hours.
  2. Then remove the excess water and spread the swollen seeds evenly on a clean plate, which is placed in a warm and bright place on the window sill.
  3. The seeds should be watered with water every day to keep them moist. However, waterlogging should be avoided.
  4. After about a week, the seedlings can be planted individually in small pots. Cover the seeds with just a little soil and continue to be careful to avoid waterlogging. Continue to leave the pots in a warm, bright place at the edge of the window.
  5. As soon as the plants have reached a size of about 5 centimeters, they can be taken outside. In any case, you have to wait until the frost saints are over because chia plants should not have frost.
  6. To plant chia, you need the right location, so you need to place the seedlings in a sunny, warm and sheltered from the wind. You can also plant chia in containers.
  7. Chia plants grow up to 2 meters in height. Therefore, make sure that there is enough space at the top of the chosen location and, if necessary, provide the plants with climbing aids for support.
  8. Chia plants should be watered regularly, but avoid waterlogging.

Harvesting chia

When the flowers have faded, the seed pods begin to turn light brown. Once the seeds are mature, usually between September and November, the pods can be carefully harvested by hand before they fall to the ground.

Post-harvest of chia seeds

Shelf life of chia seeds

How long can chia seeds be stored? Chia seeds can be stored for up to 4 years in an absolutely airtight container. However, its shelf life depends particularly on how they are stored.

It is also possible to store chia seeds in plastic containers, but this way the chia seeds don’t stay fresh for as long. Depending on the packaging, it can be stored for as little as 1 year.

How long do processed chia seeds last?

Chia seeds that have already been roasted or processed do not last long. They should definitely remain in the refrigerator and be consumed within a few days.

The oil in them goes rancid relatively quickly. It also depends on the other ingredients and spices.

Optimal storage of chia seeds

Chia seeds should be stored away from moisture and other foods. A dark and fairly cool storage place is also recommended.

However, unlike many other foods, it is not necessary to store them in the refrigerator. A moderate room temperature is sufficient, but chia seeds should be kept away from heat.

Storing near heaters or in the sun is not recommended.

How can the shelf life of chia seeds be extended?

Shelf life can only be extended by optimal storage. The container must be completely dry and the chia seeds must always be removed with a clean, dry spoon. After all, a drop of water is enough to cause the chia seeds to become moldy soon after.

Since even a drop of moisture spreads unhindered and is not even noticeable, even really dry seeds begin to spoil quickly.

In addition, a completely sealed container also ensures that no vermin can get to the seeds. This is particularly important when storing in the basement.

What else should be considered when storing chia seeds?

Chia seeds can be stored for several years, but only when they are fresh and unroasted. Therefore, when we talk about the shelf life of chia seeds we are referring to mature, whole seeds.

They consist of a kernel and are covered with a thin protective coating. Only in this condition are they protected from external environmental influences and are storable.

Uses and products made from chia seeds

Chia is commonly consumed as a snack or as an accompaniment to certain recipes, so people usually consume it this way; however, there are other types of industrial products made from this nut and therefore it can be said that chia is used fresh or processed. Also, certain products made from chia have been launched to the market, such as the ones we are about to show you.

Medicinal uses of chia

The Cahuilla used Salvia columbariae as a disinfectant. They ground the seeds to obtain a paste and applied it to infected areas as a medicinal poultice. The Cahuilla, Muwekma Ohlone, Kawaiisu, and Mahuna tribes use gelatinous seeds to remove foreign objects from their eyes. For this reason, they used it to clean their eyes. Before going to bed, it is placed in the eyes to prevent infection and inflammation. During sleep, the seeds removed sand particles under the eyelids. The Ohlon also used the seeds to reduce fever by taking the seeds orally. Among the Kumiai, the seeds were chewed when traveling by foot to gain additional strength.

Chia in food

The Cahuilla, Kawaiisu, Mohave, Tohono O’Odham and Pima (Akimel O’Odham) would grind the seeds and mix this ground material with water, creating a thick drink. The Cahuillas removed the alkaline salts from the water, thus improving the taste. The Muwekma Ohlone, Mohave and Pomo tribes used it to produce Pinole flour, which was also mixed with corn, various types of grass and herbs. The Diegueño tribe mixed the seeds with wheat to obtain a special flavor. Other tribes such as Mahuna, Paiute, Pima and Akimel O’Odham used it to produce a gelatinous substance that they later used in porridges.  The Luiseño, Tübatulabal and Yavapai peoples also used the plant and its seeds extensively as a food source.

Chia as a building material

The Mahuna tribe made fibers from it which they used to cover their dwellings and protect them from the weather.

Industrial products made from chia

Chia oil

Chia oil is a vegetable oil extracted from the pods (seeds) of the Mexican chia plant.

It is a light yellow, clear, odorless or slightly nutty-smelling liquid. This oil contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The properties of chia oil are similar to those of flaxseed oil.

In addition to cooking, where it is used hot or cold like rapeseed oil to enhance the natural flavor of dishes, chia oil is traditionally used as a varnish in Mexican lacquer painting, where its transparency and durability are valued. Its antioxidants prevent yellowing and thus make it an excellent protection for canvases, ceramics and wood paints.

Handmade products based on chia

Chia water

This wonder drink not only increases metabolism but also curbs appetite and ensures a long-lasting feeling of satiety and sufficient energy in the morning. Its dietary fibers cleanse the body, promote the breakdown of fats and stimulate digestion.

Below, you find a list of other products that are also made from chia:

  • Chia cereals
  • Chia granolas
  • Chia capsules
  • Chia powder


Chia is an important food since it is widely consumed for its many benefits, including the fact that it helps you lose weight and for its various utilities. We hope this blog has helped you learn more about chia and that you don’t hesitate to consume it in all its presentations and enjoy its benefits firsthand.