What is it?, history, cultivation, nutritional value, uses, recipes, and more...

Chia (Salvia hispanica) is an herbaceous, oil-rich, and aromatic plant native to Central America, widely utilized by the Maya and Aztec civilizations since ancient times. It belongs to the Labiatae Lamiaceae (mint) family, just like mint, thyme, rosemary, and oregano. Chia seeds contain a high concentration of alpha-linolenic omega-3 fatty acids, making them highly sought after as both a food source and a medicinal supplement.

What is Chia?

Chia is an herbaceous plant belonging to the Lamiaceae family, which can grow up to 1.60 meters tall and between 4 to 60 cm wide. Its leaves are wide, with opposite branching, measuring 4-8 cm in length and 3-5 cm in width. It features a hollow and square stem, with hermaphroditic flowers ranging in color from lavender to white that bloom in terminal clusters. The more space this plant has to grow, the more branching it will develop, resulting in better yield.

Chia blooms between July and August in the northern hemisphere, and its flowers give rise to an indehiscent achene-shaped fruit whose seeds are rich in mucilage, starch, and oil. The seeds are characterized by being approximately 2 mm long, 1.5 mm wide, 1 mm tall, and oval-shaped, with a glossy brownish-gray to reddish color.

The largest chia producers worldwide are Mexico, Spain, Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina, and Australia. These countries promote the significance of this superfood globally, particularly in developing countries, highlighting its nutritional benefits.

History of Chia

Chia, or Salvia hispanica L., is native to Mesoamerica, with its greatest genetic diversity found along the Pacific Ocean coastline. Its origin is located between Mexico and Guatemala (Cahill, 2004), originating from mountainous regions in western and central Mexico (Beltrán-Orozco and Romero, 2003). There is evidence that chia seeds were already used as food around 3500 BC and were cultivated in the Valley of Mexico between 2600 and 900 BC by the Teotihuacan and Toltec civilizations. It is also known that, alongside amaranth, maize, and certain beans, chia was one of the main foods in the diet of the Aztecs (Rodríguez, 1992) cited by Guiotto (2014).

Even in ancient times, this seed was used by the semi-nomadic Tecuexes ethnic group (Chichimeca group), located in the current municipalities of Guadalajara, Zapotlanejo, Acatic, Tepatitlán, San Miguel el Alto, Cuquio, Yahualica, etc. They used it as a tribute payment to the Mexica.

While initially harvested from wild plants, the Tlaxcaltecs and Otomíes, brought to the region by the Spanish during the conquest, domesticated it and established its cultivation. At that time, contributions reached up to 1500 tons per year and it was used as food, an offering to gods, and an oilseed to produce oil for body and decorative paints.

The Codex Florentinus, which transcribes the General History of the Things of New Spain by Friar Bernardino de Sahagún, mentions that chia was not only used by the Aztecs as food, medicine, and ritual offering, but also as currency and a tax imposed on the peoples subjected to this empire (Cahill, 2003). When the Spanish conquistadors arrived and took power, the plant was nearly eradicated. They tried to eliminate beliefs about the powers of this seed, impose their own religion, and introduce new crops from Europe. Nevertheless, the plant and its seeds persisted in some Latin American countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua (Ayerza, 2006).

Although the seed remained hidden for about 500 years, in the mid-1960s its nutritional and medicinal potential began to be recognized, and as a result, it started being sold in some natural health stores in the United States. A few years later, in 1980, a product called “Chia Pets” was introduced to the US market. These were clay decorative pieces shaped like pets, to which moistened chia seeds were applied, resulting in lush growth within a few days. This product increased global demand for chia seeds, positioning them in the market (Ayerza, 2006).

In recent years, chia has gained increasing interest due to the reevaluation of its numerous uses and properties, primarily its high nutritional value in terms of fat, fiber, and protein for the food industry (Vásquez-Ovando et al., 2007). In 2009, it was declared a novel food by the European Union, promoting its commercialization and distribution in that continent. It is currently considered a “Superfood” and is experiencing significant growth in demand, production, and worldwide commercialization of products based on its seeds.

Peru is successfully establishing itself in the chia seed market due to its favorable conditions for cultivation.

chia alimento foods superalimentos peruanos
SpanishChía, Salvia Hispánica, Salvia española, Artemisa española, chía mexicana, chía negra
El Salvador, GuatemalaSemillas de Chan

Salvia Hispánica L.

SpecieSalvia hispanica
  • Kiosmina hispanica (L.) Raf., Fl. Tellur. 3: 92 (1837).
  • Salvia neohispanica Briq., Annuaire Conserv. Jard. Bot. Genève 2: 137 (1898), nom. superfl.
  • Salvia tetragona Moench, Methodus: 373 (1794).
  • Salvia prysmatica Cav., Descr. Pl.: 14 (1801).
  • Salvia chia Sessé & Moc., Fl. Mexic.: 9 (1893), nom. illeg.

Salvia schiedeana Stapf, Bull. Misc. Inform. Kew 1896: 19 (1896).

The word ‘chia’ is a Spanish adaptation of the Nahuatl term chían or chien (plural), which in Nahuatl means “seed from which oil is obtained” (Watson, 1938).

It is also said that Chia is a word of Maya origin that means “Strength.”

The scientific name Salvia Hispanica comes from the Latin word salvus, which means ‘health’ and ‘sal veo’, ‘to heal’, referring to the medicinal virtues of plants in this genus, and the designation Hispanica, which is the Latin epithet for ‘from Hispania’.

Cultivation, Distribution, and Habitat of Chia

Habitat of Chia

Chia cultivation is typically established in regions where there is consistent rainfall of at least once a week or an average of 800 to 900 mm per year, with well-distributed precipitation. These areas should have temperatures that do not exceed 33°C to prevent pollen dryness that could impact pollination. Additionally, wind speeds should remain below 20 km per hour to prevent plant fall, and the soil should be light to medium, well-drained, and not excessively moist. Like most salvias, chia tolerates acidity and drought, requiring ample sunlight, minimal shade, and being sensitive to frost.

In small cultivation plots, traditional manual methods of direct sowing are employed, such as broadcasting, dibbling, and furrow sowing. These methods can be carried out without prior soil tillage, but they may come with challenges that hinder post-sowing processes.

From sowing to harvest, chia takes about 120 to 130 days to mature. When approximately 80% of the foliage on each plant changes color to a dark shade, resembling dryness or wilting, it is time for harvest. The plants are cut at ground level, forming small bundles along the rows for further drying. Once dried, a process called "threshing" takes place. During this stage, each bundle is gently beaten with short sticks on a plastic tarp to release the seeds. Due to its long shelf life, chia can be found on the market year-round.

Distribution of Chia

Chia (Salvia hispánica) is native to Central America, with its genetic diversity primarily found along the Pacific Ocean coast. Its origins trace back to regions between Mexico and Guatemala. Today, major chia producers include Mexico, Spain, Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina, and Australia. These countries emphasize the nutritional benefits of chia, promoting its global importance, particularly in developing nations.

Chia Cultivation

Chia cultivation thrives in regions with consistent weekly rainfall, averaging 800 to 900 mm annually. It prefers temperatures below 33°C to maintain proper pollen health for pollination. Wind speeds should not exceed 20 km/h, and well-drained, light to medium soils are ideal. Chia is drought-tolerant, requiring ample sunlight and minimal shade. Its growth cycle lasts around 120 to 130 days. When about 80% of the foliage darkens, signaling maturity, the plants are harvested at ground level. The seeds are then extracted through a threshing process. Chia's extended shelf life enables year-round availability in the market.

Geographical Distribution of Chia


Ayacucho, Puno, Arequipa

Seasonal Availability of Chia

Varieties of Chia

According to Cahill (2005), there is significant genetic diversity among wild populations of Salvia hispánica L. This is most likely due to the rugged geography of its native region, its extensive distribution area, and its highly autogamous (self-pollinating) pollination system. Two ideotypes or varieties of chia have been described:

Despite the existence of the mentioned varieties, current scientific research is conducted based on genotypes and accessions from chia-producing locations and origins. The discovered genotypes include: iztac 1, iztac 2, tzotzol, miztic, and tliltic.

  • Salvia hispánica L. var. Chionocalyx Fernald,

    with the type locality in Uruapan, Michoacán.

  • Salvia hispánica L. var. intonsa Fernald,

    whose type locality is Buena Vista, Department of Sta. Rosa, Guatemala.

  • Tzotsol

    is the most recognized variety, containing 80% black seeds and 20% white seeds.

Nutritional Value of Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are highly rich in nutrients, including proteins, calcium, boron (a mineral that aids in calcium absorption), potassium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and various trace elements like magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, and vitamins such as niacin, among others.

They contain twice the amount of protein compared to other seeds, five times more calcium than whole milk, twice the potassium found in bananas, three times more antioxidants than blueberries, three times more iron than spinach, and seven times more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon. Chia seeds consist of around 40% carbohydrates, with 30% insoluble fiber, 3% soluble fiber, and the rest being essential starches.

Their calcium levels are so high that they cover 63% of the recommended daily intake, and their magnesium levels cover 95%. The unsaturated essential fatty acids they contain are 60% alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) and 20% linoleic acid (omega-6), which contribute to the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, chia seeds contain antioxidants such as caffeic, chlorogenic, and cinnamic acids, along with flavonoids (myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol), which help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in metabolic syndrome.

Another benefit of chia seeds lies in their high fiber content, which aids in regulating intestinal transit, reducing lipids, controlling blood glucose in individuals with diabetes, and being effective in weight loss treatments. Chia seeds also contain essential amino acids such as glutamic acid, arginine, leucine, valine, serine, and phenylalanine, which contribute to the formation of tissues, enzymes, blood, hormones, antibodies, and genetic material.

Moreover, chia seeds are cardioprotective and possess anti-inflammatory, antithrombotic, and antiarrhythmic properties. They have a hepatoprotective effect, fulfill energy and metabolic reserve functions, and are considered an antidiabetic. They also offer protective effects against rheumatoid arthritis due to their anti-inflammatory properties and provide therapeutic effects in conditions such as atherosclerosis, cancer, and ischemic heart disease.

Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are a significant source of vitamins and minerals like calcium and magnesium, as well as antioxidants, fats, and proteins.

Contraindications or Side Effects

Up to this point, there is no scientific evidence suggesting chia seeds pose a health risk. However, though rare, documented cases of chia seed allergies exist, and in general, consumption should be approached with caution if:

Digestive problems such as gas, Crohn’s disease, inflammation, or abdominal distension are present.

Diverticula are present, and a diet excluding whole grains is required to avoid the potential risk of triggering luminal damage and diverticular bleeding.


Tabla Nutricional

10 Porciones por Kilogramo
Tamaño de porción 100g
Cantidad por porción

Cantidad por 100g
Energía1,507 kJ
Grasa Total32.5 g
Sodio3 mg
Carbohidratos totales31.8 g
    Carbohidratos disponibles1.7 g
    Fibra Dietaria30.1 g
Proteínas23.4 g
Calcio478 mg
Fósforo725 mg
Potasio635 mg
Agua7.7 g
Cenizas4.6 g
Vitamina A
Tiamina (B1)
Riboflavina (B2)
Niacina (B3)3.20 mg
Vitamina C17.16 mg
Acido Fólico (B9)
Fuente: Tablas peruanas de composición de alimentos – Centro Nacional de Alimentación y Nutrición – Ministerio de Salud – Perú

Derived Products and Consumption Forms of Chia

Beauty Products

Uses of Chia

The use of this seed is primarily culinary and is based on the extraordinary nutritional properties provided by the plant.

Culinary Use of Chia

The most common way to consume chia seeds is by mixing them with water or juice. The usual portion is 10 to 20 grams and is often consumed as a complementary ingredient in other main dishes such as salads, smoothies, yogurts, bread, cookies, juices, hot beverages, etc. There are also dietary supplements made from this seed.

Young chia sprouts are eaten as raw or cooked vegetables and are often used in salads.

Its consumption is typically linked to benefiting from its vast nutritional properties, for which frequent consumption is suggested; the recommended amount is 3 to 7 tablespoons per day, equivalent to a portion of oils and fats with protein. Even when mixed with different foods, it does not lose its properties, and soaking it is not necessary to obtain better benefits, as is commonly believed.

Seeds soaked in water release mucilage, producing a nearly tasteless gel-like liquid that is recommended in dietary regimens. The seeds can be dried and ground into a fine and intensely flavored flour called pinole, which is mainly consumed as a sweet.

Medicinal Use of Chia​

Among the main benefits of the seeds in disease prevention are:

Cardiovascular protection: due to its high omega-3 content, it provides a cardioprotective effect and offers anti-inflammatory, vasodilatory, and antithrombotic properties that contribute to preventing high blood pressure, hypercholesterolemia, and hypertriglyceridemia.

Improved intestinal transit: its high content of mucilages (soluble fiber that increases in volume upon contact with water) stimulates intestinal movement and improves constipation.

Improved hyperglycemia: it regulates blood sugar levels through its fiber that "traps" some of the sugars to be absorbed more gradually.

It has anti-inflammatory, vasodilatory, and antithrombotic properties.

It is a great source of energy and generates a prolonged feeling of satiety when consumed.

It is gluten-free, making it suitable for individuals with celiac disease and wheat intolerance.

Industrial Use of Chia

Chia seeds have found a significant place in various industries due to their versatile properties. In the industrial sector, chia is utilized in the production of a wide range of products. The oil extracted from chia seeds is employed in the cosmetic industry for creating cosmetics, shampoos, conditioners, and high-quality soaps. Moreover, chia oil serves as a lubricant for watches, and its abrasive properties are utilized for polishing materials like metals and ceramics. Additionally, the wood industry benefits from chia as the seeds are transformed into wood oils, contributing to the manufacturing of furniture, pressed wood, and even marine vessels. This dynamic seed's industrial applications extend far beyond its culinary and nutritional value, making it a valuable asset in various sectors.

Ritual Use of Chia

According to Claudia Monika Haros, a researcher at the CSIC at the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA), about 3,000 years ago, for the Maya and Aztec civilizations, "chia was a sacred seed, and as such, it was part of certain pagan rituals in which these populations offered it to their gods."

During those times, chia sprouts were offered to Chicomecóatl, the goddess of corn, during the festival of the hueytozoztli twenty-day period. Likewise, during the ritual twenty-day period of hueytecuílhulhuitl, pinole (a type of flour) was prepared from roasted chia seeds, filling a vessel that was floated among the attendees, who each took a portion until it was emptied. In turn, the Purépecha people of Michoacán used pinole to make small tamales that they used as an offering on their altar for the deceased.


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