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Se-se-se-Salba!

chia-seeds-group.jpgYou remember those ads. Clay lamb and dog statues sprouting thickets of green blades, punctuated by an 800-number and a 2-for-1 offer.

Last year, I was visiting Mexico with my father and some of his colleagues. One day, we went out for lunch at this gorgeous restaurant called Los Danzantes in Coyoacan – Frida Kahlo’s hometown, which is now an incorporated neighborhood in Mexico City.

I ordered a lemonade and when it came, it had tiny seeds throughout, like the seed of a strawberry or kiwi. Like a strawberry seed, also, each had a tiny gel sac. The effect was a satisfying texture and delightfully tart taste. When I asked our friends about the seeds, I was told that they were from the chia plant. As in ch-ch-ch-chia.

Apparently, the hearty seeds were one of the most important foods during the Aztec era. Aztec warriors, during battles, were said to subsist on the seeds alone, which I later learned are the world’s best source of plant-based Omega-3 oils.

When I got back from my trip, I spent a few weekends trying to find sources for my favorite Mexican ingredients. I found locally-grown tomatillos at a farmer’s market and a Mexican grocer in Kensington Market who sells queso de oaxaca, jarred nopales (cactus pads), and canned huitlacoche (corn fungus…better than it sounds!) But much to my surprise, it was incredibly easy to find chia: I had been passing packets of Salba on the shelves of my local health food store for years and soon learned that Salba is a type of Chia, a member of the mint family.

It turns out Salba is a favorite of health conscious eaters for its Omega-3s, high soluble fiber content and staggering list of nutrients. A serving of Salba contains three times the iron of spinach, fifteen times more magnesium than broccoli and six times more calcium than whole milk. Salba is the only food with a medical patent because of its ability to lower the blood pressure and blood glucose levels of Diabetes-2 sufferers. Some people believe that its slimy consistency which turns liquid into gel – a result of the high soluble fiber content – helps to block the absorption of refined carbohydrates in your stomach. This is not scientifically proven, however.

I find the Salba seeds to be a bit expensive, but there are cheaper resources on the internet. Especially if you suffer from high blood pressure, hypoglycemia or diabetes, it is worth a try. Just throw a tablespoon of the chia into your favorite lemonade!

You can read more about salba and chia here.

Update: You can read the USDA nutritional breakdown of the seed by going to this website and typing “chia” into the search box.

(Picture from Raw Reform)

5 comments
  1. Sharon Troy

    I’ve heard similar glowing properties about flax seeds, but then came to learn that unless they’re chewed up really well or ground that your body won’t digest them and you won’t get the nutritional benefit because they just pass through your system.

    Is there any truth to that with salba? Can you buy salba oil?

  2. Meredith Melnick

    I’ve heard that about flax seeds too, but it is not the case with chia/salba. Your body can digest the outer husk on the chia seed easily (the flax seed husk is hard, which is why it should be ground), but the seed is sold ground up and in pill form also. It doesn’t go rancid when ground, so let your personal preference be your guide!

    If you want to learn more, here is a great interview with Wayne Coates, a land studies professor who wrote “Chia: Rediscovering a Forgotten Crop of the Aztecs”:
    http://www.healthcentral.com/diabetes/c/17/17801/chia-seeds/

  3. Meredith Melnick

    Hi Beth! The sprouts are definitely edible and many people include them in salads or even cold-press them into shots like is done with wheat grass. The only downside of doing this is that you lose the omega-3 fatty acids and fiber content. The omega-3 fatty acids are used by the seed to build new cells (this is why they are so great for human health), but if the seed has already sprouted, those nutrients are already spent. Additionally, most of the fiber comes from the seed’s husk, so you do not get the benefit of that fiber when you consume the sprout. Of course there is nothing unhealthy about the sprouts – they are definitely healthy and (allegedly) tasty, too – but they do not provide optimal nutrition.

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