Are chia seeds the energy boost you need?

Daniel Allen

Chloe with Caroline Marshall, owner of Nelson’s RED Gallery & Café, one of the first in the country to stock the drink.

Thirty-year-old Chloe Van Dyke, Otago University neuroscience graduate, Alzheimer's researcher, advocate of herbal medicine, jogger, Himalayan trekker and the brains behind an award-winning beverage chock-full of hydrated chia seeds, isn't prone to slick publicity spin. 

On a temperate Nelson morning, her recounting of the fast-paced tale of her CHIA drink, launched only two and a half years ago, is candid and comparable to the natural ingredients in her glass bottles.

"Our story just keeps going. We may not have been

ready
but we started and we're running to keep up but I love the challenge," says Chloe, who jointly founded CHIA Limited with her father Ben in December 2012.

Daniel Allen

Imported chia seeds are chemical and allergen free.

Plentiful challenges there have been and Chloe is not glossing over the bumpy patches during the development of her drink which boasts more than 2000mg of omega-3 goodness per 275ml bottle.

"Our first CHIA bottling run at a local Nelson brewery was complete mayhem. We discovered that chia seeds, with their delicate gel, don't go through a standard bottling line. The liquid overflowed everywhere – it even hit the roof. I think there are probably chia seeds still stuck on the walls."

A year earlier, intent on developing a natural health elixir, Chloe's experimental production of the historic Asian fermented tea kombucha also hit the rocks.

Daniel Allen

Chloe and Ben on quality control.

"I had a winery vat in my parents' living room which I'm sure they didn't really appreciate and I learned that kombucha gets complicated when you upscale from little batches. The yeast and the bacteria went berserk and it tasted horrible."

And then there was the

exploding-bottle
episode with an early consignment of CHIA fermented in the family garage.

"I had to put on a bike helmet before entering because of the explosions. In

hindsight
it was very funny but at the time it was an expensive exercise."

Daniel Allen

A soft gel forms around chia seeds when they are soaked in water.

Chloe

deems
that disasters are behind every person who succeeds – "it's just that you don't see people until they are successful". This being the case, the diminutive CHIA Limited company director is poised for an exciting ride. Her biggest triumph to date is her success at the prestigious ANZ Flying Start Business Plan in mid-2013 when she scooped the supreme award just six months after launching CHIA.

"It was a Dragons' Den situation with cameras on you and five minutes to present to the judges. My younger sister is a lawyer so I borrowed her blazer to look more corporate!"

The prize of $58,000 in cash and business advice allowed Chloe to import specialized bottle-filling equipment from Italy while the resultant media coverage put her product on the map and sparked a raft of speaking engagements.

Daniel Allen

Chloe relaxes in Kahurangi National Park.

"I spoke to some Massey University students recently and said, 'You don't need to know everything before you

start
but you need your philosophy in place'. The 'what' doesn't matter but if you are true to the 'why' then it gives you the freedom to evolve."

For

Chloe
that evolution began with a desire to salute her interest in the brain, the body and super-foods and create an endurance drink for athletes.

The project commenced in her family kitchen where she and her father, an age group champion swimmer, began mixing Nelson blackcurrant juice with hydrated chia seeds in a bid to find a natural and nutrient-rich fuel.

Jane Ussher

The March/April issue of NZ Life & Leisure is on sale now.

"My sister is also a competitive athlete and there were no natural drinks available. All the

big-player
sports drinks contained caffeine, sugar, salt, potassium and colour. Athletes are supposed to be the healthiest

people
but the drinks to sustain them are short-sighted." 

The first batches of CHIA were tested on a local swim squad in Nelson which reported that the drink boosted energy and recovery rates. Encouraged by the result, Chloe brought a food technologist on board to provide expertise on fine-tuning flavours and maximizing the integrity of the chia seeds.

Before CHIA's first production run in late 2012, Chloe took a prototype to the remote Himalayan region of Ladakh where she was climbing to 5500 metres. "Each morning I soaked the seeds in blackcurrant concentrate in my eco-tanker. I found I needed less water and it sustained me." 

Ironically, while CHIA began as an athletes' brew it has morphed into a broad-appeal commodity and is now stocked in more than 400 cafés and speciality food stores nationwide. Only five percent of its market is the sports sector. Chloe says

its
unexpected texture – akin to a half-set jelly – has been both its strength and its weakness.

But with CHIA orders having doubled in the past six months and 10,000 bottles being made per week over the summer its surprising consistency is anything but a negative. 

Despite CHIA's burgeoning growth and its recent accolade (winner of the Massey University Healthy Choice at the New Zealand Food Awards), Chloe has her feet fixed to the floor of the bottling room she rents at Nelson Bays Brewery in Stoke.

Three times a week at 6.30am she and her father blend fruit juice and chia seeds in a compact stainless-steel mixing tank, taste testing as they go.

Until a year ago Chloe was hand labelling her bottles. Her flatmate handles dispatch, she has four part-time staff on the go and her father orders ingredients while her portfolio covers "the rest".

She says that five years ago CHIA would have been "too weird" for New Zealanders. "But now we know that this tiny seed with its big nutritional profile is the best in the world and we are all looking for it." 

SUPER SEEDS

– CHIA blends chemical-free chia seeds imported from Australia with super-juices including blueberry, blackcurrant, orange and passionfruit plus apple juice. It is 100 percent natural with no added sugar, artificial flavours or preservatives and is vegan and gluten free.

– When CHIA was first launched it was the only chia drink in the Southern Hemisphere.

– It's made in three flavours: Blackcurrant & Apple, Blueberry & Apple and Orange Passionfruit & Apple and retails for about $5 per bottle.

– It should be served chilled.

– Chia seeds are rich in vegetable omega-3 and contain complete protein, minerals, electrolytes, fibre and antioxidants.

– Chia seeds are expensive (average cost is $40 per kilogram) and at present they are not commercially grown in New Zealand.

– A soft gel forms around chia seeds when they are soaked in water. The gel prolongs hydration, provides an energy boost and is crammed with essential nutrients.

– Chia seeds came originally from South America but Australia is now a major producer. 

chia.co.nz

This article first appeared in the March/April 2015 edition of NZ Life & Leisure. To subscribe, visit mags4gifts.co.nz or join us on Facebook.


 – NZ Life & Leisure