And all around great food that most people have never heard of.
There is a food that at one time was prized from central California to Texas, from Colorado to Central Mexico. It was a staple of the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe from the Palos Verdes area of southern California, The Chumash collected it as far north as San Louis Obispo County. The Hopi and Zuni used it as a travel food, the Apache collected it wherever they found it.
Amongst the Native peoples of Mexico it was considered so valuable that the Aztecs paid their taxes with it.
The Gabrielinos called it "Pashi", the Chumash knew it as "Ilepesh", I'm told the Mayan name for the plant meant "that which gives strength", the Aztecs adopted it as "Chian" which meant "oily". The Latin names for the plant are Salvia columbariae and Salvia Hispanica.
Until recently we knew of this plant only through late night commercials and the jokes about them. I am of course talking about the Chia Plant and chia seeds, the original Native American super food.
When I started doing research on foods that supported healthy blood sugar levels I found many references to it as as one of the most promising, and I was reminded of having had it as a treat when I was a child.
Until the book "Born to Run" was published, it was likely that most people didn't even know the chia seed was edible, let alone good for you unless they were close to South Western Native or Mexican cultures.
As it turns out, the humble chia seed can help normalize your blood sugar, lower your cholesterol and blood pressure, help prevent heart disease, as well as help you lose significant weight. It will also most likely make you smarter. The seed is very high in Omega-3 fatty acids especially alpha-Linolenic acid. It is also quite high in antioxidants as well, and has complete protein.
Here is a breakdown of chia as a nutrient. This is calculated for one ounce of chia seeds, which is about two tablespoons worth.
An ounce of chia has a glycemic load of "1" and is mildly anti-inflammatory.
You can get a pretty in depth nutritional analysis here. This is a good article on chia seed for diabetics.
Back in the day, Apache warriors would keep a bag of chia seeds on their belt when on the trail. This was preferred over any other food because it was light, compact, and could be eaten right out of the bag with no cooking at all. It doesn't taste like much, but chia and water can keep you going for weeks if need be.
There are many ways to use chia as a food, and I will go over a few of them here.
First though, for those people who have sisters who like to drink pancake batter-like substances when they run, we have Chia Fresca.
Chia Fresca is my answer to Gatorade and all the other so called "energy drinks" out there. (All of which are not fit for human consumption as far as I am concerned).
Here is my recipe.
In a one liter bottle:
fill half way with good water
add three tablespoons of dry chia seeds and stir (or shake, with the lid on of course) until the seeds are mixed well with the water.
Add the fresh juice of two limes, (with the pulpy bits from making the juice).
Add one packet of Alacer Electro-Mix.
Add one level teaspoon of MSM powder.
fill the bottle the rest of the way with water.
Sweeten to taste.
Put the lid and and shake like crazy, then let it sit in the fridge for a half hour or so.
When I make this and I know I'm having a light workout day I use stevia as a sweetener. If I will be working out hard enough to need serious calorie replacement I will sweeten the mix with agave syrup. (very low glycemic index for a sweetener)
The MSM helps support joint health and also seems to convince your body's cells to be a bit more permeable (and thus fight insulin resistance).
The chia seeds will absorb about nine times their weight in water as they sit in the bottle. After a half hour or so the will form a gel around themselves and you will have what looks a bit like a liter bottle full of frog's eggs in swamp water.
This stuff will rehydrate you very quickly and give you calories from real food rather than from "high fructose corn syrup", and it won't spike your blood sugar. I have found nothing better for long runs or bike rides. (it also tastes good and is fun to drink)
Now that athletes have found out about chia fresca you can find all manner of articles on the web about how great it is.
Here's another recipe that uses chia.
Ilaká'its'éé Sélt'sé (Apache Sunflower Cakes)
2 cups of raw, shelled sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon of salt
1 rounded tablespoon of chia seeds
4 tablespoons of blue corn meal (or other heritage corn)
1/2 cup of water
a little cooking oil
Stir the chia seeds into 1/2 cup of water and set aside for about a half hour so that the seeds form a gel.
Place the sunflower seeds in a pan with the teaspoon of salt and just cover with water. Cook at a low boil for six minutes then take the pan off the stove and let it cool.
Place the seeds along with any water left from the cooking in a good blender or food processor and grind them into a paste.
Place the paste in a bowl and add the corn meal, stir well. Now add the chia gel and mix it into the batter. Chia gel will bind ingredients as well as gluten or egg, so it is a great substitute for anyone who is vegetarian and wheat intolerant.
Bring a lightly oiled cast iron skillet to a medium heat.
Scoop out a rounded tablespoon of the batter, form it into a patty and place it on the skillet, use your spatula to flatten the patty a bit more. Repeat until your skillet it full.
Cook until both sides are golden brown.
Serve warm or cool.
If people have an interest I'll post some other recipes that involve chia as time allows.