Google searches for chia seeds have jumped more than 800% in the past decade, according to data from Sous Vide Tools cited by Ingredients Network. This superfood showed stronger growth than others such as turmeric, kale and avocados, the U.K.-based food and technology supplier said.
Chia seeds are very high in omega-3 fatty acids, protein and fiber, the publication noted, and global suppliers are selling them for use in muesli and other breakfast cereals, bread mixes and fruit juice. Between 2014 and 2015, new foods and beverages featuring chia seeds climbed 70%, according to Mintel's Global New Products Database, Ingredients Network said.
Other applications include so-called "super coffee" products and chia oil, which is able to tout its healthy fat content, the site added. Manufacturers could benefit from a number of chia seed assets. It's clean label, natural, minimally processed, high protein, plant-based and fits into raw and paleo dietary trends.
Chia seeds haven't been widely identified as a superfood in the U.S., perhaps because they've been overshadowed by vegetables like kale. Online search volume in the U.S. indicates chia seeds and other superfoods have been some of the most popular items — attracting almost 250,000 searches monthly on average in 2016.
The superfood trend reveals itself in snack items including kale and other vegetable-based chips. Protein-rich seaweed has done a star turn as an ingredient or flavoring in foods and beverages. Superfoods have even been added to pet foods because of their nutrient content. It's not uncommon to find quinoa, blueberries, pumpkin and spinach in ingredient lists on dog food packaging.
Chia seeds can also take advantage of the growing popularity of ancient grains, which are being used more often for nutritional and clean labeling reasons. Chia seeds were in 37% of 2017 new product launches containing ancient grains, according to Innova Market Insights, second only to quinoa.
Because of their nutritional credentials and small size, chia seeds are included with other superfoods in healthy snack products. SNAAK Bar's SNAAC CBD bar contains chia seeds among its dozen superfoods. Kind Snacks features them in several bar varieties. Because the little seeds deliver a powerful dose of antioxidants, so they're also incorporated in açaí bowls and fruity drinks that show up on social media sites, boosting their popularity even more.
The Wall Street Journal charted the course of food fads, which chia seeds have taken. Introductory pitches from producers come first. Then the fad ingredients appear on food blogs, food truck menus and in high-end cooking stores. Next, they are incorporated on restaurant menus and TV food shows, followed by recipe sites, fast-food offerings and grocery shelves.
As chia seeds' popularity grows, their supply is shifting. Most of the global chia seed supply traditionally comes from Central and South America and Australia. They're now being grown commercially in the U.S. — another vote of confidence and a more convenient source for American consumers.
Where chia seeds go next is an open question, but their future seems assured since they're easy to grow and pack such an impressive nutritional punch. As more research comes out underscoring these assets, it's a safe bet chia seeds have enough going for them to remain a superfood and avoid food fad status.