The food of the Aztecs

The Canadian Health Food Association show in Vancouver is a humongous event. Hundreds of booths, speakers and samples: a complete paradise for a health geek like myself! One new product that really caught our attention as we wandered was a tiny little seed called Salba.

Salba, which is sometimes referred to as “white chia”, looks similar to a sesame seed. It was apparently a staple food of the ancient Aztecs who used it many different forms, from oil to flour. Manuscripts from as early as 3500BC identify a tiny super-seed as the secret to their health, stamina, and strength. In 1991, this plant was rediscovered, and bred traditionally to create the most nutrient dense strain possible.

There are many claims being made for this little seed. It is said to lower blood pressure and inflammation, balance insulin and aid weight loss. But the claim that is really stunning has to do with essential fatty acids.

Dr. Vladimir Vuksan, Professor of Endocrinology and Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto is the gentleman who has been seriously researching the functional food potential of this tiny seed. According to his work, Salba is the highest known whole-food source of omega3 fatty aids. Just two tablespoons (30g) provides more then 3000mg of omega3 in a 3:1 ratio with omega6. This is great news for vegetarians and vegans who prefer to find a non fish-oil source for their good fats.

In an interview with Total Health Magazine, Vuksan states that compared gram for gram, salba contains six times for calcium then milk, three times more iron then spinach, fifteen times the magnesium of broccoli, and three times the antioxidant capabilities of blueberries. It contains the same potassium as one and a half bananas, and the vitamin C of seven oranges. The list of nutrients goes on and on.

At the show, we tried some bread made with salba seeds, and were impressed with how good it tasted. Now, having brought my little sample packs home and ripped them open, I realize that the bread tasted good because it was…well, bread and that no special recipes or obstacles were involved. There are some nutritious ingredients that get added to foods to make them better for you, but most of them taste a little weird, and take some planning and practice to use well. Salba on the other hand tastes almost exactly like nothing. At first, I’ll admit I was disappointed. After a moment I realized the potential – an ingredient that could so easily be added to bread, cookies, muffins, cereal, yogurt etc. without really changing the taste!

Is there a down side to this amazing new food? I was surprised to discover that Salba is the only ancient grain to obtain a medical patent. I didn’t realize that we were patenting foods these days! This could go either way in my humble opinion; either creating new medications that could offer hope to people suffering with diabetes, cardiovascular problems, weight issues, etc., or it could point to a time when the best “functional” foods are only available by prescription. For now, I’m just going to enjoy these little seeds, and see what happens as time goes on…

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