[Tokhm-e Sharbati (Persia - lit Sharbati Seed); Salvia hispanica]
Native to Mexico and Guatemala, chia seed was the third most important crop of the Aztecs, after corn and beans and ahead of amaranth. It is not a grain, but seed of a member of the Sage genus (Salvia) in the Mint Family (Lamiaceae). It is highly nutritious and gluten free, with a high protein content, and is very rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and dietary fiber. Today the leading producer is Australia, followed by Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador and Guatemala.
North of the Mexican border the main use of chia seed has been for the green fur on Chia Pets, but it has started to penetrate the Health Food and Ethnic Foods markets. In Persia (Iran) it is now used in Sharbati (cooling soft drinks), alone or in combination with the traditional London Rocket seeds. Chia sprouts are edible and used similarly to alfalfa sprouts. Food manufacturers are now experimenting with replacement of as much as 25% of the egg and oil in cakes with a gel made from chia.
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This seed has long been used whole in beverages, because, like the Basil seeds popular in Thailand, it absorbs about 12 times its weight in liquid, producing a gelatinous effect. Chia can be easily sprouted, and the sprouts used similarly to alfalfa sprouts. You have to plant a zillion of them because they are so small. Yes, that's our infamous kidney bean at the lower right of the photo to the left.
Buying: These are now easy to find in ethnic, health food and yuppie oriented markets - but pricing is all over the map. The photo specimens were purchased from the spices section of a large multi-ethnic market in Los Angeles, packed in 8 ounce bags at 2016 US $5.98 / pound.
Storing: In an airtight container, kept away from heat and light, it should be good for at least 6 months.
Using: For Sharbat-e Khakshir the seeds are used whole, along with traditional Khakshir seeds, mixed with water, a little sugar, a dash of rosewater, perhaps herbs, and lots of ice. Let it sit until the gel forms.
Health & Nutrition: Chia seeds are outstandingly nutritious. They have a good spread of proteins, and a very significant Omega-3 oil content. They are also rich in B vitamins, thiamine, and niacin, as well as a good source of riboflavin and folate. They are also a rich source of minerals, particularly calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc. Research into specific health benefits is still in the preliminary stages, but so far no significant influence on cardiovascular health has been demonstrated.