What Are Chia Pets?

Written by martha adams
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What Are Chia Pets?
Chia Pets are made by sprouting seeds on unglazed pottery. (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

A Chia Pet is a commercially available trademarked decorative planter for sprouting seeds of the chia plant. Chia is a member of the Salvia family, which includes the edible herbs mint and sage. Chia Pets are popular as a form of entertainment and can be used to teach children about growing plants from seeds.

How Chia Pets Were Born

The Chia Pet originated in the village of Azompa in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, where local potters made figurines of animals such as sheep and deer. The figurines were made of fired but unglazed red clay known today as "terra cotta." The bodies were hollow, and the outer surfaces were textured. These roughened surfaces were coated with the naturally sticky chia seeds and dried. When water was added to the inside of the figurine, it seeped through the pottery shell to be absorbed by the seeds, which then sprouted, giving the figurine a coat of living green "fur." The commercial possibilities were noted by an American, Joseph Pedott of Joseph Enterprises, who first marketed the figurines in the United States as Chia Pets. Commercial Chia Pets come in many shapes, usually of animals or cartoon characters, and they may have glazed portions. The most recent model is a bust of President Obama, with the chia representing his hair.

Chia Pets as Food

In addition to their entertainment and educational value, Chia Pets grow seeds that are real food. Chia seeds can be eated whole and are a good source of protein, fibre and omega fats. They can be ground into a flour substitute for cooking. The leaves of the full-grown plant can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. The sprouts can be added to salads.

Sprouting Seeds on a Chia Pet

Chia Pets demonstrate the process of sprouting, or germinating seeds on a wet surface. Unglazed pottery is a useful medium for this, no matter what shape it is. This can also be done by placing seeds on wet paper towels or newspapers or a damp burlap sack. Keep them in a warm, dark place for several days until they begin to grow and form sprouts.

Other Seeds for Chia Pets

Chia seeds are especially good for a Chia Pet because when they get wet, their outer seed coat becomes mucilaginous or sticky and they adhere easily to the pottery. However, many other seeds have this same natural stickiness. Among them are those of Ocimum basilicum or sweet basil, a familiar flavouring herb in Italian cuisine. Grass seed will also stick to a Chia Pet.

Reuse an Old Chia Pet

A Chia Pet that has lost its green fur from age or lack of watering can be cleaned, reseeded and reused. The chia seeds that come on Chia Pets are those of Salvia columbariaes, while those of S. hispanica are more commonly touted as food. Even though the USDA describes S. columbariaes as edible, you may prefer to reseed your Chia Pet with S. hispanica seeds before you shear it and eat the clippings.

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