Chia (Salvia hispanica) is a plant native mainly to South and Central American countries and belongs to the sage family (Salvia). The Spanish word chía is derived from the word chian/chien in the Nahuatl language, which means "oily", or "starch".
Chia seeds were used by the Maya and Aztecs over 5,000 years ago as a medicinal plant, nutritional supplement and tonic. The smooth, oval seeds are cultivated in South America for food. Chia seeds can be consumed whole, ground into flour, swollen, sprouted, or in the form of an oil. They first found their way to Europe in the 15th century.
The annual plants, which grow up to 1.75m high, produce violet-blue or white flowers from which brown, grey, white or black seeds develop. The seeds are speckled with lighter spots. Only chia plants with white flowers can produce white to light beige seeds.
The small seeds, which are rich in fat, protein and fibre, have excellent swelling properties and a slightly nutty taste.