You may remember Chia Pets, those green, fuzzy-looking sprouted plant “pets.” Well, Chia Pets are grown from — you guessed it — chia seeds. But who would have guessed that the seeds of these pop rage plants are actually an ancient Aztec superfood?
Chia seeds, or Salvia hispanica, are native to the mint family. They look a lot like poppy seeds. When eaten raw, they have a crunchy, slightly nutty taste. When put into liquid, the seeds secrete a gel-like substance that gives them a caviar-esque texture with a mild to neutral flavor. They are native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala, where they were used by the Aztecs and Mayans as a grain for cooking, religious ceremonies, trade currency and soldier superfood ration.
So what’s the big deal about chia seeds? They are a perfect nutritional bang for the Ski Bum Kitchen dollar. As with many other seeds, they contain high amounts of unsaturated fats, fiber and protein. They are the most concentrated non-marine source of omega-3 fatty acids known to man (omega-3’s are good for lowering cholesterol, helping to reduce inflammation in the body and reducing depression). One ounce of chia seeds contains about 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of complete protein, phosphorus, manganese and calcium, and has more antioxidant value than the same amount of fresh blueberries. Not to mention the benefits of chia seeds’ hydrophilic properties — when put into liquid, the seeds are able to absorb 9 to 11 times their own weight in water, which is what causes them to secrete the gel-like substance for which they are known. This gel helps to slow down the carbohydrate-to-sugar conversion process of the chia seeds and any other food in the stomach of the chia seed consumer, translating into longer-lasting fueled and hydrated endurance in the chia seed-eating athlete.
So for the Ski Bum Kitchen budget, chia seeds are a nutritional supplement lifesaver. You can usually purchase chia seeds for about $0.50 to $0.75 a serving (ounce). They are great for backpacking, as they are super lightweight. They are easy to throw into a water bottle during a bike ride or long trail run. They are delicious on salads or in a bowl of oatmeal. Most of all, they are cheap, and a great way to supplement your omega-3 needs during those budget-crunch times of travel and shoulder season adventures.