Pronounced "a mah ran th", Amaranth “grain” is actually the seed of the plant, which also produces very flavorful, tender green leaves that you may find labeled as “Chinese spinach” at Asian markets. Amaranth is the common name for more than 60 different species of amaranthus. These are typically very tall (between 5’-6’ tall) plants with broad green leaves and spectacularly bright gold, purple or red flowers. Three species are most commonly grown for their edible seeds - Amaranthus cruenus, Amaranthus hypochondriacus, and Amaranthus caudatus.
Amaranth comes from the Greek word amarantos which translates to “one that does not wither,” or “the never-fading.”
A member of the Chenopodiaceae family, Amaranth is related to beets, quinoa, spinach and Swiss chard. Because of this relationship, many of its nutritional characteristics are more in line with dark green leafy vegetables.
Amaranth is believed to be indigenous to Peru and has a rich, colorful history in Mexico. It is estimated that it was domesticated between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago. Amaranth was considered a significant crop of the Aztecs and they have dedicated large amounts of land to its cultivation. In addition to its use as a food crop the Aztecs used it in sacred religious rituals.
Because of the religious tie, when Cortez and the Spanish conquistadors tried to conquer Mexico and force Christianity on the Aztec people, they burned all of the Amaranth fields, its use became forbidden, and possession of Amaranth resulted in severe punishment.
Amaranth seeds were eventually carried to other parts of the world, where both the seeds and leaves became important food sources in areas of Africa, India and Nepal. Amaranth grows better in higher elevations (up to 10,000 feet above sea level) with temperate climates, but it can also grow well in moist, loose soil with good drainage at almost any elevation.
In the mid-1980s, the National Academy of Sciences listed Amaranth as being potentially one of the most important crops in combating worldwide hunger. Amaranth is highly efficient in utilizing sunlight and soil nutrients at high temperatures and is more drought tolerant than maize. The crop is stress resistant - growing equally well under both dry and wet conditions. The consumption of amaranth improves the health of malnourished children. Those who consume the crop recover easily from nutrition-related sicknesses.
In the last several hundred years, Amaranth has been grown in diverse locations, including Eastern Africa, Central America, China, India, Mexico, Nepal and the US.
Our Amaranth is grown in the India.
Pseudograins (also called pseudocereals) are foods that may bring to mind grains when someone is eating them, but they are not biologically the same.
Biologically speaking, cereal grains are the seeds of grasses from the family Poaceae, they produce a dry, edible one-seeded fruit that does not open at maturity and these may be called a berry, grain or kernel. There are eight grains commonly consumed today - wheat, corn, rice, oats, rye, barley, millet and sorghum.
In contrast, Pseudograins, or false grains, resemble grains, have similar nutrient profiles and have been utilized in traditional diets spanning thousands of years in much the same way as the “true cereals” have been. The three major pseudograins are amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa.
There is no real “strict” definition of what an ancient grain is. Ancient grains are loosely defined as grains that are essentially the same as they've been for hundreds to thousands of years, as opposed to grains that in the last 50-75 years have been widely altered.
Modern wheat has been almost continuously cross-bred and “enhanced” so that it no longer bears any resemblance to its ancient grain ancestors. Einkorn, emmer, farro and freekeh are considered ancient grains in the wheat family. Some also consider black barley, blue corn and black and red rice to be ancient grains. Other grains that American palates are only now becoming somewhat aware of, including Amaranth, millet, sorghum, teff and quinoa, are often also considered to be ancient grains.
In South America, you can find Amaranth sold as a street food, most often having been popped like corn. In India, Mexico, Nepal and Peru it’s often served as a breakfast porridge. In Mexico, a favorite treat is “dulce de alegria” (translates to “candy of happiness”), which is a sweet candy like dish made from popped Amaranth mixed with honey or sugar.
The most common use of Amaranth is to grind the seeds into a flour for use in breads, cereals, cookies, granola, noodles and pancakes, as a substitute for flour based products. The seeds can also be popped like popcorn or flaked like oatmeal.
Cooked Amaranth acts differently than other cooked whole grains. It softens on the inside while preserving enough outer integrity that it never completely loses its crunch.
Amaranth can be simmered like other grains and results in a porridge-like texture. Being extremely dense, Amaranth is too heavy to be used as a substitute for rice in side dishes. We recommend that you combine it with other grains if you desire a more "rice-like" dish.
We also like to use Amaranth as a thickener for sauces, soups and stews.
Cooking Amaranth is comparable to cooking pasta or rice. Use 1 cup Amaranth to 3 cups liquid. We like to use chicken or vegetable stock instead of water when preparing Amaranth for savory dishes and will use milk when making it for breakfast dishes. Bring the Amaranth and liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer, cover and let it simmer for 25 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
One cup of uncooked amaranth yields about 3 cups cooked.
To enhance Amaranth’s nutty flavor, sauté the seeds in a little bit of fat before adding your liquid.
One cup of cooked Amaranth has 252 calories, 5 grams of fiber and a whopping 9 grams of protein.
Amaranth is exceptionally high in manganese (105% of the daily recommended value) and also high in magnesium, phosphorus and iron. There has been some research done on Amaranth’s health benefits and there may be 4 good reasons to consider adding it to your diet.
It’s a protein powerhouse. At just over 9 grams of protein per 1 cup cooked it has significantly more protein content than most grains. It is also often referred to as “complete protein” because it contains lysine, an amino acid missing or negligible in many grains.
According to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Amaranth may have Cancer-preventing, anti-inflamatory properties.
It’s heart healthy. Amaranth has shown potential as a cholesterol-lowing pseudograin in a 2003 University of Guelph study.
Last but not least, Amaranth is naturally gluten-free.
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