Salba Research & Development's proprietary, eponymous product is derived from a variety of mint called Chia. It might sound humble, but the company has big plans for it.
Indeed, Salba believes that the product can be added to virtually any food, and does not affect the taste of the finished product. It is also reportedly highly nutritious.
In fact, Salba claims that the ingredient is so nutritious that it's initial concern was that food companies would simply not believe some of the claims made. But after years spend in research and development, Salba is slowly becoming recognized.
"It is the richest whole food source of omega-3 in the world," Salba president Larry Brown told FoodNavigator-USA.com.
"Two tablespoons of Salba gives you 3.05mg of omega-3 and 5.18mg of dietary fiber. It contains six times more calcium than milk."
The company is now developing the first food product to contain Salba. A tortilla chip manufacturer in Denver has developed a 95 percent organic corn product that contains five percent Salba. According to Brown, this means that consumers will be getting 400mg of omega-3 from just one ounce, or about 15 chips.
The product is being marketed by Nutraceutical Corporation, and will be called Taste Wave.
In addition, two major Canadian companies are interested in extracting oil from Salba, with the biomass left providing a good source of fiber and protein. "Another company is talking of encapsulating the oil and launching it as a supplement in Toronto this October," said Brown.
And while Salba is better source of omega-3 than flax, it could also help food makers avoids the difficulty of using fish oil to fortify their products with omega-3. "You can add it to any food in the world and it won't affect the favor," said Brown.
But Salba has certainly not been an overnight success. While some of this can be explained by the modest size of the company, it is largely because Brown and his team agreed early on that respected scientific evidence for the claims made on behalf of Salba was absolutely vital.
As a result, much of Salba Research & Development's time and resources have been spent on research. The University of Toronto has been heavily involved in verifying the claims of Salba, and research is ongoing at the city's St Michaels Hospital.
Brown says that in a study to be published later this year, Dr. Vladimir Vuksan, associate professor at the University of Toronto's faculty of medicine, will show Salba can reduce after-meal blood glucose and plasma insulin levels.
"We knew we had to do the research," said Brown. "Early on, someone told us, 'Your biggest problem is that no one is going to believe you!'" Nonetheless, the product has come a long way since the early 1990s when two Argentinean brothers were trying to market Chia as a nutritious food supplement. The problem they found was that because Chia seeds are black, they would affect the final color of the product.
The key breakthrough for the Salba team was the discovery that through careful non-genetically modified cultivation, they found that they were able to successfully grow white Chia seeds.
"We grow it mostly in Peru, where we can control all growing," said Brown. "What we offer is a more nutritionally dense product; it bakes differently, it has a higher omega-3 content and it absorbs more water than ordinary Chia. In effect, we're not really competing with Chia because this is a different product."
In fact the Chia story goes back a little further. Brown contends that the Aztecs were fully aware of the plant's beneficial qualities 500 years ago, and that the Spanish Conquistadors attempted to destroy the plant in order to undermine the native civilization.
Salba of course, intends to reverse this decline. "We will be producing one million pounds of Salba by June 2006, and 10 million pounds a year is our target," said Brown. By then, the product might just be better known.