Chia Seeds. Yes, this is indeed what Chia Pets are made of. Not having grown up in America, I can't verify this first-hand, but those are the rumours.
"…and its relevance to ultralight backpacking" I hear you ask? Patience grasshopper, we'll get there…
First let me tell you the story of how I learned about Chia Seeds… In search of a better dried milk product for my breakfasts (with more fat content), I heard of a Nestle product called Nido that is common in Spain/Mexico. Unlike typical non-fat dried milk found in the likes of Whole Foods in the US, Nido is whole-milk. My search led me to a Latin Grocery shop in Pike Place Market.
Sadly they were out of stock of Nido, but while there I got chatting with the nice lady that owns the shop and quickly onto the topic of backpacking. Her eyes opened wide with excitement as I told her about traveling light weight. "Oh my", she said "You have to try Chia Seeds. They are a miracle and are perfect for what you talk of." … "Aztec warriors used to march for an entire day on just a handful of seeds.". (Now probably wasn't the time to mention that my recollection of Aztec history is that they died out due to hunger and Spaniards). She went on to tell me how long distance runners and STP cyclists come to her shop to buy these precious seeds.
I was admittedly quite intrigued. So what are the proclaimed benefits of Chia Seeds? According to thechiaseed.com:
1. Nutritious. Full of omega-3, antioxidants, calcium, protein, fiber, and many other vitamins & minerals.
2. Energizing. Gives an energy that lasts, providing stamina and endurance.
3. Reduce Cravings. Because Chia Seeds absorb so much water and have high soluble fiber levels, they help release natural, unrefined carbohydrate energy slowly into the bloodstream.
So how do I prepare them? At breakfast – I simply fill a 2-cup pot with water… add a Tbsp or so of dried coconut milk (for flavor and fat-boost) and then dump in about 1-2 Tbsp of seeds. Wait 5-10 minutes and drink. Waiting is important – over time the seeds absorb the water and puff up into small balls almost like mini tapioca balls in Bubble Tea.
I've used them with much success on the West Coast Trail and also in our recent Pasayten hike. Both Nigel and I used them two out of three mornings on the Pasayten trip. We both experienced feeling a lot more hydrated in the mornings and also in need of less mid-morning food. Our breakfast sustained up well beyond lunch time with strenuous hiking.