As reported recently by NutraIngredients, demand for chia is booming, but some South American suppliers have said they are close to exhausting supplies.
Speaking with NutraIngredients-USA, John Foss, founder and managing director for The Chia Company, said that the company does not disclose crop yields, but did reveal that their growing area is being extended 100% annually.
Foss, a fourth generation farmer and Nuffield Scholar, explained that chia is a latitude specific crop that needs to grow within 15 degrees of the equator to ensure the right day length to develop the rich omega-3 oil in the seeds.
“The Kimberley region in Australia is the perfect environment due to the latitude at exactly 15 south of the equator,” he said. “We have unlimited water supply from the largest sustainable water supply in the southern hemisphere - Lake Argyle and we use gravity feed irrigation to ensure the crop gets the right amount of water at the right time throughout the growing season.”
Once the chia seeds are fully formed the company stops irrigation to allow the crop to ripen naturally under the Australian sun. “Unfortunately, other parts of the world use chemicals to ripen the chia seeds before harvest.”
“As the largest producers of chemical-free chia, food manufacturers and large health food retailers can rely on The Chia Co for consistent quality and supply of nutrient rich chia year round,” he said.
EU expansion predicted
The company sells chia in 36 countries around the world, with the USA, Australia and Asia currently the biggest markets.
The biggest food sectors for the use of chia as an ingredient are bakery, smoothies, and “there are some exciting yogurt projects to launch this fall,” he said. In addition to boosting the nutritional content of the food, the chia also acts as a binder and thickener, and so can replace a number of other thickening agents and help achieve a cleaner label.
“With the novel food approval into baked goods in the EU and our further positive notification on extension of use, we see the UK and EU becoming a big market for us,” he said.
Chia is booming in the sports nutrition space, after being cited in the endurance athlete bible Born to Run. “We have strong support from the endurance athlete community,” said Foss.
The Chia Shot is the company’s biggest selling finished product in the US. When added to water, the seeds gel and extend hydration. This also extends the release of energy, making it an ideal sports nutrition product.
Much of the attention towards chia has focused on the omega-3 content - The Chia Company guarantees 20% Omega-3 content in all of its chia. Chia is also high in omega-6, fiber and protein, and rich in antioxidants.
A recent study by scientists from the Appalachian State University and the University of North Carolina found that 25 grams per day of milled chia seed for seven weeks were associated with 138% increases in levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and 30% increases in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) levels (Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, Vol. 67, pp. 105-110).
“The health implications of increasing plasma ALA through milled chia seeds or other plant sources are still being debated, but two randomized studies (10–12 weeks) by our research team have failed to show changes in disease risk factors including blood lipids, blood pressure, inflammation, oxidative stress, and arterial stiffness,” wrote the Carolina-based scientists.
The company supplies black and white chia seeds, as well as chia oil, powder and gluten-free chia flour.