AmaranthAmaranth seeds are tan or light brown in color and are about the size of poppy seeds. Not a true cereal grain, Amaranth is sometimes called a ‘pseudo-grain’ and has been referred to as a herb or even a vegetable. There are 60 species of Amaranth on the planet. With it’s own genus classification, Amaranthus, Amaranth is a relative of the common pigweed. Some of these species of Amaranth are grown for their spinach-like leaves which are eaten as a salad while other species are grown only for ornamental or decorative purposes. And lastly, still other species produce the tiny seeds that are so nutritious. Sold mostly in health food stores, Amaranth is an extremely nutritious grain that is just becoming known in North America.
Amaranth has a long and interesting history in Mexico where it's been grown and harvested for thousands of years by the Mayan and Incan civilizations. The Aztecs believed Amaranth had magical properties that would give them amazing strength. Because of this, it became one of the main foods of the Aztec royalty. Amaranth also held an intricate role in some of their ancient rituals. In one ritual, the seeds were crushed open, then honey and human blood were added followed by forming this reddish paste into the shapes of birds and snakes then baking it. With the coming of the Spanish into the Americas, this abominable practice was abolished. Every crop of Amaranth that could be found was burned. Punishment for possession of the grain became so harsh that even having one seed was punished by chopping off the hands. Amaranth quickly became a ‘lost’ seed for many generations. Presently, Amaranth is grown in Mexico, Peru and Nepal as well as in the United States.
Amaranth’s great nutritional qualities are the driving force powering it’s comeback. It’s high in protein, particularly in the amino acid, Lysine, which is low in the cereal grains. In fact, Amaranth has the highest lysine content of all the grains in this study with Quinoa coming in a close second. To make your whole wheat bread a complete protein, substitute about 25% of your wheat flour with Amaranth flour. Amaranth, by itself, has a really nice amino acid blend. Just 150 grams of the grain is all that’s required to supply an adult with 100% of the daily requirement of protein. Amaranth is one of the highest grains in fiber content. This makes Amaranth an effective agent against cancer and heart disease. Amaranth is also the only grain in this study that contains significant amounts of phytosterols which scientists are just now learning play a major part in the prevention of all kinds of diseases. Amaranth is also rich in many vitamins and minerals. The following table lists only the nutrients in Amaranth that are higher than those found in wheat. As nutritious as wheat is, you can see that Amaranth puts it to shame...
Amaranth must be cooked before it is eaten because it contains components in it’s raw form that block the absorption of some nutrients in our digestive system. You should cook Amaranth whether you plan on giving it to your family or your pets. For those of you who are allergic to wheat, Amaranth can be your grain of choice. However, Amaranth contains no gluten and because of this, it’s not good for making yeast breads by itself. Mixed with 75% wheat flour and 25% Amaranth flour, the resulting dough should give you a nice rising loaf of bread. However, for breads that don't require gluten to raise such as biscuits, muffins, pancakes, pastas or flat breads, you can go as high as 100% Amaranth flour. Amaranth can be boiled for 20 minutes in it’s whole seed form for a morning breakfast cereal. It can also be ground raw or for added flavor, it can be toasted before grinding. Try popping it like you would pop popcorn. Popped Amaranth’s uses are many as they add texture and crunchiness to breads, salads, soups and granola. Whole seed, cooked Amaranth also goes well in soups, granolas and as already mentioned, mixes well with wheat flour to make a myriad of different baked goods. Amaranth flour also makes a nice thickener for gravies, soups and stews. Sprouted Amaranth goes well in salads or prepared cereals. As Amaranth contains fairly high levels of poly-unsaturated fats, it’s a good idea to store them in your refrigerator after opening the container. For long term storage, package them with oxygen absorbers in an air-tight container which should extend their storage life for several years if stored in a cool place. Having a hard outer shell, Amaranth should store better than Quinoa or buckwheat which have similar nutritional qualities but have a softer, more permeable shell. We think you will enjoy experimenting with this ancient grain and will be excited with it’s wholesome flavor and the excellent nutrition it will provide for your family.