The firm said it will supply the omega-3-rich seed both to the retail market and to the manufacturing sector.
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. They are also rich in fiber (over 5 percent soluble fiber), protein (over 20 percent), amino acids, and a range of nutrients, vitamins and minerals (including calcium, B vitamins, zinc, boron, potassium, copper and phosphorus). They are also said to be a stable source of antioxidants.
“Modern consumers’ appetite for international food, combined with the growing trend for healthier organic options, is fueling the popularity of organic ‘power foods’ from around the world,” stated the company.
“By reintroducing ancient natural foods to the Western world, Navitas Naturals is expanding the functional food category and providing options with more bio-available essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals than most supplements and chemical extracts.”
Navitas said it sources its chia from the highlands of Mexico, where it is “sustainably harvested”. The product is USDA organic certified, said the firm.
The company explained that the essential fatty acid profile of chia seeds provides omega-3s and omega-6s in a ratio of 3:2.
“Approximately 60 percent of chia seed oil is alpha linolenic acid (ALA), compared to less than 10 percent (…) in other leading alternatives such as soybean oil and canola oil,” said Navitas.
Chia is also said to be more easily digested than flax, which is currently a leading plant source of ALA.
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 gel can be added to beverages such as smoothies, juices and herbal teas. According to Navitas, the gel creates a barrier between carbohydrates and the digestive enzymes that would break them down.
“This causes the carbs to be converted to glucose at a slow and steady rate which prevents insulin spikes and glucose instability. This absorption process and blood sugar regulation is a nice feature for diabetics and people looking to maintain a steady flow of energy,” said the firm.
Although chia has not traditionally formed part of the western diet, figures released by Datamonitor last 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.
Chia seeds are gluten-free and, according to Navitas, have “not been found to cause reactions for people with food allergies or sensitivities.”
However, other sources indicate that chia may not be suitable for people suffering from sesame or mustard seed allergies.