Diner's dictionary Defining unfamiliar menu terms

Green Smile with chia seeds at The Juice Joint at 1291 Folly Road.

Chia (chee-uh) seed

"2013 is undoubtedly the year of the chia seed among the health-conscious," ABC News last year declared. But while the rage for the ingredient is new, the flowering plant that produces it dates back to at least pre-Columbian times: The Aztecs considered Salvia hispania a staple crop.

Many contemporary Americans first became aware of chia through TV commercials for decorative Chia Pets, which miraculously sprouted grassy coats. Then a few years ago, health food manufacturers embraced the seed as an alternative to flax, which was widely condemned as tasteless and prone to rot. Plus, nobody liked grinding it.

Chia seeds, which can be consumed whole, are high in Omega-3 fatty acids; antioxidants and fiber. (The fiber count is so high that nutritionists recommend eating no more than 1 ounce a day.) While scientists are still investigating whether there's any truth to claims that chia seeds can contribute to heart health and weight loss, fans swear by their mild, nutty flavor and tapioca-like texture they develop when mixed with water.

The Juice Joint (Green Smile with chia, $6.50)

Chia hasn't yet crossed over to standard restaurant menus, but it's on the menu at most juice bars: Dell'z Vibez serves a smoothie made with almond milk, banana, almond butter, spinach and chia seeds.

Chia seeds always are on the shelves at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Earth Fare.