Functional Ingredients predicted in April that chia’s rocket to ingredient stardom wouldn’t burn out any time soon. And if the latest coverage in the New York Times is any indication, we were right. This ingredient is just now going big. NBJ estimates that U.S. consumer sales of chia supplements grow nearly 90 percent in 2012. Furthermore, NBJ estimates that total consumer sales of products containing chia (functional food and supplements) will grow as much as 160 percent.
Flax was, and is, a great ingredient, but the distinct flavor and difficulty in formulating for beverages put it at a distinct disadvantage compared with chia. Chia’s genius comes from its simplicity. As beverage innovators such as Mamma Chia and GT’s Synergy line of kombucha with chia have found, suspending the seeds whole in a great-tasting beverage gives consumers the quick and fun health boost they want.
Chia has ridden the wave of whole food nutrition and “naturally functional” ingredients. As consumer distrust of “processed” foods and unpronounceable ingredients has risen in the last year—alongside the non-GMO movement—foods and ingredients that offer benefits by virtue of their innate healthiness have seen marked increase in demand.
Chia proponents call out the ingredient’s high content of omega-3s, fiber, calcium and antioxidants. While chia does have the highest amount of omega-3 in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) of any whole-food source, the ALA gets converted to EPA in such small amounts it can hardly be compared to a fish-oil source.
While many of the finished products we’re seeing on the market have latched on to omega-3 claims, chia’s high fiber content and satiating effect lend the ingredient to other in-demand health claims. A recent survey showed that as many as 87 percent of American consumers believe it’s important to get enough fiber in their diets and 44 percent want to get that fiber through finished products with high fiber content.
Bottom line: Overblown health claims may get an ingredient in the spotlight (açai), but it's the clinically-proven health benefits that keep it there (probiotics).
Does chia have staying power or will it fall flat?