Chia (Salvia hispanica L) is a summer annual herbaceous plant belonging to the mint family. Historically, chia seeds have been eaten in South America, but they have not been consumed to a significant degree in Europe.
Chia was a major food crop of the Aztecs and was grown in mountainous areas extending from west central Mexico to northern Guatemala. Chia seeds were roasted and ground to form a meal called 'pinole', then mixed with water to form a porridge or made into cakes. Today, chia seeds are being grown in Argentina and Peru, but can't be cultivated in Europe because chia needs sub-tropical conditions to grow.
R Craig & Sons [M] Ltd submitted an application to the Food Standards Agency for approval to place whole and ground Chia seed on the market. The seeds provide a source of the n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid. Chia seeds are intended to be added to soft grain bread, which would provide another possible food source of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Approval is sought under Regulation (EC) 258/97 concerning novel foods and novel food ingredients.
Before any new food can be introduced on the European market it must be rigorously assessed for safety. In the UK the assessment of novel foods is carried out by an independent committee of scientists appointed by the Food Standards Agency, the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP).
Following an initial public consultation period and the discussion of this application at the 16 July 2003, 4 February 2004, and 25 March 2004 meetings of the ACNFP, the UK Competent Authority formulated an initial opinion on this novel food ingredient.
In October 2009, R.Craig & Sons was granted authorisation to market Chia seeds in bread products with a maximum content of 5 % Chia in the EU by Commission Decision 2009/827/EC.