Recently, NutraIngredients-USA reported on the surprising emergence of flaxseed—a staple item of health food stores for years—in mainstream food products. But despite the growing popularity of flaxseed, chia seeds take the medal for being the ingredient most present in new products in 2016. Like flaxseed, chia seeds have been harvested for centuries—for example, they were an important crop of Mesoamerican cultures. Also similar to flaxseed, chia seeds speak to the current nutritional zeitgeist in a number of ways—they contain omega-3s, and are naturally non-GMO, gluten-free, and vegan.
The numbers reflect chia’s trendiness: according to NutraIngredients-USA, the global chia market is expected to reach $1.5 billion by 2021, with an annual growth rate of around 41%. One reason behind this surge is innovation related to how chia seeds are used. Companies aren’t just using the whole seed anymore, but rather using chia seeds to produce oil, powders, protein, and fiber. This means the range of packaged chia products is also expanding, from food bars, to functional foods, to cosmetics. All told, the chia seed continues to influence what we eat, despite its diminutive size and ancient origins.