Existing all the way back to the Aztec, chia seeds are linked to stories of strength and endurance. Historical records show that early cultures of Central and South America prized chia seeds for its properties that enhanced strength, energy and endurance they needed in extreme desert conditions such as extreme heat, dryness, and shortage of food, water and medication.
Aside from the early civilizations in South Americ, the native American Indians would eat chia seed mixed with water as they ran from the Colorado River to the Pacific Ocean to carry messages. Traders carried it as an all-important part of their diet while traveling from one trading post to another. The Aztecs and Indians, when hunting, did not have horses to chase after their prey. Instead, they stalked the animals on foot, sometimes running all day, carrying nothing but a pouch of chia seeds and their hunting spears. No wonder they called it the ‘running food.’
Edward Palmer, a plant explorer wrote in 1871: “In preparing chia for use the seeds are roasted and ground, and the addition of water makes a mucilaginous mass several times the original bulk, sugar to taste is added, and the result is the much prized semi-fluid pinole of Indians and others – to me one of the best and most nutritive foods while traveling over the deserts.”
When the Spanish conquerors arrived in South America under the command of Hernando Cortez, their Jesuit chroniclers referred to chia seeds as the third most important crop to the Aztecs behind only corn and beans, and ahead of amaranth . They noted how chia was revered throughout society and was even used as tribute and taxes to the Aztec gods and nobility. The Conquistadores saw that chia was an integral element in their religious and spiritual culture, as even the name itself was part of their symbol for energy and life.
Because it was so fundamental an ingredient in the Aztec civilization, Cortez was convinced that to completely conquer the native people, their most fundamental practices and beliefs had to be destroyed. Chia seeds apparently fell in that category, and what followed was a systematic campaign of burning and destruction of chia fields. Growing chia became illegal, with the Spaniards imposing heavy fines and severe punishments on anyone caught with the seeds in their possession.
Some chia seeds found their way to Spain, and it was there that it was mistakenly classified as a specie native to the country. Thus the Latin word for Chia: Salvia hispanica L.
Since the extinction of the Aztecs, Incas, Mayas, and other South American cultures, chia was left to grow wild, harvested and eaten only by South American locals and American Indians until the early 80s when word about a ‘super food’ began to make its way to health conscious groups.
Now, thanks to enthusiastic health-conscious marketers and the internet, chia is a new byword amongst food scientists, agriculturists, nutritionists, botanists, and health food stores. Even athletes now take a daily dosage of chia seeds.
It was in 1991 when a group of American and South American scientists and agriculturists began collaborating in the commercial production of Chia in Argentina. Thus began a project that provided growers with an alternative crop that turned out to be a superfood. It is now grown in South America, Central America and Australia.