It’s the plant that gave the Chia Pet to the world. Commonly called chia, Salvia hispanica L. is a genus of sage (Salvia L.) and an annual member of the mint (Lamiaceae) family.
A flowering plant, the seed of the chia provides a food staple used throughout Mexico and Central and South America since the time of the Aztec empire. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) says chia was the third most important food crop for the Aztecs after corn and beans.
Today, both the seed and the oil extracted from it are used in a wide variety of products, from drinks like the Mexican beverage chia fresca to cosmetics, lotions and foods. "Global interest in chia seed as a food is based on its high content of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and complex carbohydrates," writes the USDA.
The gelatinous nature of the chia seed and its ability to hold onto moisture makes it an attractive option for baking. Commercial growers and manufacturers promote the seed as an ideal addition to whole-grain breads, much like flax or poppy seeds. The crop provides the most bounty when grown in tropical or warm weather locales.