The first UK-grown chia seeds go on sale this week, as demand for the plant native to the Americas is fuelled by the explosion in the popularity of plant-based diets.
The company Hodmedod, pioneers of British-grown pulses, grains and seeds, has been working with farmers Peter and Andrew Fairs, of Great Tey in Essex, to bring the new British crop to market.
Chia has become increasingly popular in the UK in recent years. The tiny dark oil-rich seeds can be sprinkled on cereals and in salads, incorporated into bread doughs or used to thicken smoothies, soups or stews. Their nutritional profile and versatility has led to them being dubbed a “superfood”.
“We are delighted to be able to offer British-grown chia seeds as another step in our mission to increase the diversity of both British farming and British diets.” said Nick Saltmarsh, co-founder of Hodmedod.
The company is aiming to reintroduce British-grown beans, peas and pulses and has worked with chefs and restaurateurs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Yotem Ottolenghi, Jamie Oliver and Mark Hix.
Chia seeds are harvested from the Salvia hispanica plant, a member of the mint family originating in central America, where – alongside beans and corn – chia was a staple food in Aztec cultures. Once imported from South America, large volumes are now typically shipped to the UK from Australia and Africa.
Salvia hispanica was previously thought not to grow to maturity in the UK climate but the Fairs have selected a strain that has ripened and yielded well on their Essex farm. They already grow a range of crops not usually seen in Britain, including quinoa, camelina and naked barley.
“We believe we have successfully harvested the first commercial crop of chia seed in the UK” said Peter Fairs. “The crop received no pesticides and both yield and quality far exceeded our expectations – and the bumblebees loved it too.”
The first harvest of chia seeds is available to buy in 200g retail packs at £2.49 from Hodmedod’s website and some independent retailers.
Supermarkets say demand for high protein foods has been boosted by the popularity of flexitarianism, with more and more consumers choosing to reduce their consumption of meat.