The product uses organic chia seeds sourced in Ecuador. Bringing the benefits of chia to the people who actually grow the stuff was among the founding principles of the brand, said CEO and co-founder Santiago Stacey.
“We started the company in Ecuador (where the company still has an office in Quito). It was a mix of curiosity and frustration,” Stacey told NutraIngredients-USA. “Curiosity because of the benefits of chia, which I started to get interested in after I moved to Canada. And frustration, because I found out that 96% of the production of chia in Ecuador was being exported, and only 4% of it stayed within the country.”
“ ‘Kuna’ means ‘to give’ in the native Quechua dialect spoken in Ecuador where the seeds are grown,” he said.
Stacey, who has a background in marketing and previously worked for a Toronto importer of South American food products, said the company first wanted to boost chia consumption within Ecuador to bring the seed’s health benefits, which he said include high levels of fiber, antioxidants and omega-3s, to the local population.
Benefits for local farmers
But export was always had to be part of the picture, as the internal market could not support an adequate number of farmers. The seed’s growing popularity in North America can have benefits for local farmers, Stacey said.
“In Ecuador the local farmers were growing mostly potatoes,” he said. “With potatoes they could earn maybe $250 a month per hectare. With chia, they can earn as much as $600 a month per hectare.”
Kunachia’s new product uses milled seeds paired with a Bacillus coagulans probiotic supplied by Unique Biotech of Hyderabad, India. This organism forms hard-shelled spores in its dormant phase, giving it great shelf stability, allowing its broad application in many food matrices that heretofore were off limits to live organisms. But the supplier had to do some work on the ingredient to make it work with Kunachia’s application. The base form of the probiotic is a fine powder, almost a dust, which would have had a tendency to fall to the bottom of Kunachia’s pouch package. Unique Biotech came up with a proprietary way to form larger particles of the probiotic, so that it would stay evenly distributed throughout the milled chia mixture, Stacey said.
Stacey said the pairing of the chia with the probiotic builds on chia’s potential to act in a prebiotic fashion.
“The fiber in the chia will act as a fuel to ignite the probiotic in your body to help it last longer,” Stacey said.
The milling of the chia ameliorates a sometimes off-putting aspect of the seeds, that being their tendency to exude a mucilaginous goo around themselves when exposed to water. Kunachia markets a chia shot as well, and some people enjoy the gooey, tapioca-like texture. Others, however, liken it to sipping frog eggs. The milled seeds act more like a conventional thickener, and allows the product to substitute for eggs in some preparations, Stacey said. Other serving suggestions include sprinkling the ingredient on cereal or mixing it into smoothies. One 12 gram (or about one tablespoon) serving provides up to 1 billion CFUs of the probiotic, Stacey said, though the product’s positioning as a “superfood” blend being sold under a Nutrition Facts panel excludes putting CFU counts on the label. The same serving offers 3 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, he said.
Editor's note: In the original version of this article we described Kunachia as a Canada-based chia marketer. That is incorrect. The company is an Ecuador based chia growing company, and its headquarters is in Quito, Ecuador. We apologize for this error.