Chia: Unearthing An Aztec Secret

Header image: Pixabay

You wouldn’t suspect it, but that little jar of unassuming black seeds on the supermarket shelf has a formidable origin in some of the greatest ancient civilisations of the world. There is evidence of chia as an important part of the Aztec diet as far back as 3500 B.C. So why on earth did such a legendarily fierce people make such a fuss about these tiny grains, and why do the not-quite-so-fearsome nutritionally obsessed continue to do so?


Chia was consumed in Aztec society in all sorts of ways: ground into flour, eaten raw, pressed for oil, offered to the gods, used as medicine and even as a sort of currency. Why? Well, the answer is indisputably clear: the very word ‘Chia’ in Mayan literally means ‘strength’. Aztecs were convinced that a few spoonfuls provided all the energy and sustenance needed for their most fearsome warriors. Bear in mind that there may have been an unhealthy dose of wishful thinking back then; remember that these were the very people that believed that the sun battled darkness every night and would rise to save mankind only if human blood was spilled in an unnecessarily gory sacrifice the day before (at times including dancing in the skin of the victim…ermm…ok). However, even excluding the fantasy- and sorry for that mental image- these seeds definitely pack a nutritional punch.

Iskiate is truly an athlete (or Aztec warrior’s) wonder drink. Water, lemon and soaked chia seeds.

Image Credit: Free Images


A 2-tablespoon serving of chia contains 138 calories and 9 grams of (good) fat, a whopping 10 grams of fibre, 5 grams of protein and a bunch of other essential vitamins and minerals (including almost 20 percent of the recommended daily value for calcium). Despite their teeny size, they help to make your body feel full- which aids appetite and therefore weight loss.

Chia, when soaked, forms a gel not unlike raw egg white (incidentally also why they are used as an egg replacement for vegans). In a matter of minutes, the seeds suck up around twenty times their weight in liquid- transforming into a thick gunk. The speed this happens is handy for our no-time-to-wait attitude to food preparation, but not so great for one poor American man who chased down a spoonful of raw seeds with a glass of water. You can imagine the result… the gloop formed almost instantaneously in his oesophagus (that tube that leads to your stomach), and had him racing to the hospital. Lesson learnt: always soak your chia! Once soaked (in water, fruit juice or almond milk, for example), you can add the goo into smoothies, cake batter, risotto, yoghurt, porridge etc. At home, our daily breakfast involves a blender, apple puree, nuts, oats and soaked chia. It’s a delicious and filling start to the day.

Two Tarahumana tribesmen. They don’t look it, but they would hands down outrun you on the treadmill. Barefoot.  

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


The biggest selling point of chia, however, is energy. What the Aztecs believed for centuries stuck around. Case in point; the Mexican Tarahumana tribe. If you, like me, are a documentary-junkie you might have seen that film about the ‘The Running People’ from Northern Mexico. In a nutshell; they like to run. A lot. The discovery of this tribe even led to the modern barefoot-running movement that is still going strong today. It turns out (not coincidentally) that the Tarahumana also drink a lot of Iskiate- a gloopy drink of water, lemon and, yep, you guessed it, chia seeds. Chia genuinely does seem to increase stamina, and if endurance and speed is seen as a veritable superpower, then chia can legitimately proclaim itself a superfood.

Feel like an Aztec warrior and enjoy a personally delivered Mayan Citrus Salad from our Mexican Summer Lunchboxes or a bite of Aztec Chilli Beef in your next office lunch break.

For warriors roaming outside of the office, Chia Streetfood Kitchen pops up at Camden Lock West Yard every day, and Brick Lane on Sundays. Gorgeous chia-sprinkled gluten free and vegan dishes can be found in inSpiral Cafe in Camden. Heading out of town? Don’t miss Daylesford Organic in Gloucestershire for raw chocolate & chia seed pudding, chia breakfast bowl, chia seed crackers and even chia houmous.