Chia a hit on US food aisles
Chia Pets or the 'the pottery that grows' have long been popular in America. Mixing chia seeds and water on the outside of an animal-shaped terra-cotta figurine produces a plant resembling green hair almost overnight. Now, chia is having a second life as a nutritional 'it' item.
Whole and ground chia seeds are being added to fruit drinks, snack foods and cereals and sold on their own to be baked into cookies and sprinkled on yoghurt. Grown primarily in Mexico and Bolivia, chia, like fish, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, though of a different sort. It also has antioxidants, protein and fibre. Recognition of its nutritional value can be traced as far back as the Aztecs.
Companies like Dole and Nature’s Path have introduced chia products, which have begun showing up on shelves in mainstream grocery stores like Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons. Mintel, a market research firm, counted 100 products containing chia in a presentation it did in March on the potential of increasing the use of the seeds in dairy products.
Nature’s Path, an organic cereal company, introduced its first chia-laced cereal, Apple Crumble Love Crunch, last December, and now has eight products that include the seed in some form.
“Business has been great with these products — overwhelmingly positive and, perhaps surprisingly, not just in health food stores but also in regular grocery stores,” said Arjan Stephens, executive VP of sales and marketing at Nature’s Path.
He adds chia’s nutritional attributes, along with its many uses in food processing, could turn it into a staple. “It can be used in gluten-free breads or waffles to add fluffiness or to replace eggs in vegan products,” he said. “It offers an alternative to those with nut allergies.”
Australia has recently joined Mexico and Bolivia in the chia-production act with its own type of seed that is grown somewhat differently. But it is a difficult crop to grow outside of the traditional areas, and the market is tiny, about $70-million, says Stephens.
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