National Geographic : 2015 Dec
PHOTOS: REBECCA HALE, NGM STAFF; JOSEPH ENTERPRISES, INC. (CHIA PET) Planet Earth EXPLORE Gone are the days when chia, a member of the mint family, was associated mostly with a “pet” plant fad of the 1980s. Today its seeds are soaring in popularity for an arguably better reason: nutrition. They pack an omega-3 punch and are high in protein, fiber, and calcium. They’re also gluten free and said to benefit everything from digestion to hair, skin, and nail health. Until recently chia—which is native to Mexico and Guatemala—wasn’t grown on a notable scale outside Central and South America and Australia. Now a handful of U.S. farmers are building a domestic supply, planting a variety that University of Kentucky researchers developed for the fewer hours of sun in North America. “Demand continues to increase,” says seed breeder Tim Phillips, “and U.S. -c ultivated chia will help ensure high-quality, consistent production.” —Catherine Zuckerman Chia Makes Waves Once found chiefly on “pets” (above), chia is often called an ancient grain but is technically a seed that becomes gelat- inous when put in water or other liquids. The plant is now being grown on a small scale in the United States, where demand is rising thanks to its health benefits.