Amaranth was a staple in the diet of pre-Columbian Aztecs, who believed it had supernatural powers. Amaranth is a tall plant with very broad leaves that produces numerous tiny seeds. Both the leaves and seeds are edible.
In Mexico, amaranth is popped and mixed with a sugar solution to make a confection called alegria. It is also used to create the traditional Mexican drink Atole.
In India, amaranth is known as rajeera (the King’s grain) and is popped then used in confections called laddoos, much like the Mexican alegria.
In Nepal, amaranth seeds are used to make sattoo somewhat like oatmeal, or into a flour to make chappatis.
In Ecuador, the flowers are boiled then the colored boiling water is added to aquardeinte rum to create a drink that purifies the blood.
Amaranth has been grown in the United States since 1975; the grain is becoming more widely available, and is often used as flour for baking.
The name amaranth comes from the Greek for never-fading flower. The plant is an annual herb, not a true grain and is a relative of Pigweed, and Cockscomb. There are approximately 60 species of amaranth as well as many varieties and cultivars.
Amaranth grows 5 to 7 feet tall with broad leaves and a head of small, red or magenta, flowers. The seed heads look like bushy corn tassels, the seeds are tiny (1/32"), and are a golden or tan color, with a few dark colored seeds.
Amaranth is an attractive plant and is extremely adaptable and easy to grow. Simply scratch the soil, throw down some seeds, and water. It resists heat and drought, and has no major disease problems.
Amaranth can be cooked as a cereal, ground into flour, popped like popcorn, sprouted, or toasted. The seeds can be cooked with other whole grains, or added to soups and stews.
Amaranth flour can be used in pasta or baked goods. It must be mixed with other flours when baked in yeast breads, as it contains no gluten. Use about one part amaranth flour to 3-4 parts wheat or other grain flours.
Amaranth grain has a mild, sweet, nutty flavor, the leaves taste much like spinach and are used much the same way.
Amaranth seed is high in protein (15-18%) and contains lysine and methionine, two essential amino acids that are not frequently found in other grains. It is high in fiber and contains calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and C.
Amaranth seed has three times the fiber of wheat and five times the iron, it also has twice the calcium of milk. Amaranth leaf contains higher calcium, iron, and phosphorus levels than spinach.