Particularly in the Americas, chia seed inclusion has been on the rise in finished packaged goods, Benexia’s director of business development Remi Reguero told FoodNavigator-USA at the SupplySide West 2016 show in Las Vegas.
“Just this year, we have around 50 new products using [our] ingredients,” he said. And chia isn’t just being added in “as is” in granola or yogurt or a beverage—it's being used as a base and fortifying ingredient ranging from crackers to enriched, gluten-free pasta, mostly by Latin American manufacturers.
Different chia milling processes, different applications
Benexia’s origins go back to 2005, when a group of chia seed growers and scientists in Chile and Argentina founded a cooperative to promote the use of chia seeds in the food and nutraceutical space. After simply supplying chia seeds to manufacturers for about a decade, the company developed processes to make its own chia-derived ingredients three years ago.
The ingredients itself are straight-up chia seeds milled to different sizes—using a proprietary process that Reguero said allows them to specify whether fiber or protein content will be higher in the resulting powder—or cold-pressed to extract the oil.
For example, “in beverage, you’re looking for protein—that’s why the beverage ingredient, with the right particle size, focuses more on protein,” Reguero said. The beverage ingredient, called Xia Powder 125, is smaller than 125 microns and contains 40% protein, 35% dietary fiber, and 6% ALA omegra-3 fatty acids.
“We don’t use any solvent reaction or enzyme reaction or anything like that,” Reguero said, which he explained is a draw for manufacturers seeking to make 'natural' claims. Benexia’s processing plant, which opened this year, is dedicated to just chia, ensuring all its ingredients are free from allergenic contaminants.
Other products and applications are the Xia Powder 425 for bakery uses, which allows the reduction of glycemic index in baked goods by replacing starches with dietary fiber, and the Benexia Xia Oil, a cold-pressed ALA omega-3 oil.
Science builds on chia’s functional benefits
According to CEO Sandra Gillot, increased demand for chia seed has helped the company grow significantly. As more consumers globally continue to adapt or strive for a plant-based diet, more manufacturers are looking at plant ingredients that haven’t had a global market presence.
Chia is an example, and though its current ubiquity in the global food and beverage scene is less than a decade year old, the plant has been cultivated for millennia in Central America, and multiple studies have been published supporting its health benefits.
“We have motivated studies [on chia seeds] at universities in Chile, but we are not directly investing in them,” added Gillot, CEO of Benexia. “But there are a lot of studies that have been done, in both powder and oil, it is fully proved that chia is exceptional.”