AHD brings ‘super seed’ chia to global market

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition, Chia

Atlanta-based AHD International is to supply its customers globally with chia seeds, which the company is marketing as a vegetarian wholefood that improves overall heart health.

Chia is the edible seed of the desert plant Salvia hispanica​, a member of the mint family, which grows in Latin American countries including Mexico, Argentina and Peru.

The seeds are said to be a significant source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as easy-to-digest protein. They are also rich in fiber (25g give around 7g fiber), amino acids, and a range of nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Another advantage is said to be that the seeds do not have to be ground to make their nutrients available to the body.

AHD has termed chia “natural super seeds”,​ and said they can be used in a variety of functional food applications, including cereals, breads, soups, salad dressings and nutrition bars.

"Our customers can add chia seeds to functional foods where gluten-free, high fiber, high protein and low carb end products are desired,"​ stated John Alkire, president of AHD International.

"The large amounts of naturally occurring omega 3 and 6 fatty acids in chia seeds also make for a great ingredient for products aimed at helping consumers improve overall heart health."

Ancient tradition

In pre-Columbian times, chia seeds formed an important part of the diet of Aztec and Mayan populations, where chia was a major food crop grown in mountainous areas extending from west Central Mexico to Northern Guatemala.

Chia seeds were roasted and ground to form a meal called 'pinole', then mixed with water to form an oatmeal-like mixture, or made into cakes.

When mixed with water, chia solidifies into a gel-like substance, as a result of the fiber it contains. This “nutritious gel”​ can be added to beverages such as smoothies, juices and herbal teas, said AHD.

The company said that the seed is also a source of antioxidants, which makes it stable in formulations and therefore does not interfere with a product’s shelf-life.

Market

Although chia has not traditionally formed part of the western diet, figures released by Datamonitor earlier this year suggest that the ingredient is being increasingly used as a ‘novel’ functional ingredient.

The market researcher’s Productscan database picked up a number of new food and beverage products featuring ‘ancient grains’, including chia, quinoa, kamut and amaranth.

In 2007, there were 515 new products launched globally that contained these grains, essentially doubling the 257 launches recorded in 2005. Compared with 2004, when they were only 112 new products that used these grains, the rise is even more striking, representing a five-fold increase.

According to Datamonitor, an increased interest in grains is closely linked to overall consumer intentions to eat healthy products. Over 63 per cent of American and 58 per cent of European consumers surveyed in 2006 said that it was either "important"​ or "very important"​ to reduce consumption of processed foods, it said.

It is thought that chia is not suitable for people suffering from sesame or mustard seed allergies.

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