Amaranth seeds are eaten as grains, though the plant isn't actually a grain -- it's an herb. (There are also many varieties of Amaranth that are considered weeds.)
The Amaranth plant is tall (5 to 7 feet) and busy, with very broad leaves and showy flower heads of small, clover-like flowers . Many gardeners grow it for its looks. The flowers turn into seed heads resembling very bushy corn tassels. The tiny seeds are generally a golden to creamy tan colour. Each plant produces from 40,000 to 60,000 seeds, certainly enough to assure the next generation of this annual plant.
You can also eat the leaves of Amaranth. It is closely related to spinach and beets, and when the leaves are young and tender, they will taste much like spinach and can be used as you would spinach or beet greens. Some varieties are better at producing the seed; others are better for growing as a greens crop that can be harvested within 5 to 6 weeks after planting. Like most greens, the smaller leaves are always the best.
Can be steamed, or toasted, in which case they will puff and pop like popcorn. Can be sprouted for salads.
- Large amounts of calcium, fibre, iron, potassium and vitamins A and C;
- Contains lysine and methionine, two essential amino acids not usually found in grains;
- Fibre content is 300% more than wheat;
- Iron content 500% more than wheat;
- Contains 200% more calcium than milk;
- Even though you cook it as you would a grain, it acts as a legume would in terms of complementary protein: that is, cooking with wheat, corn or brown rice results in a complete protein;
- Contains tocotrienols (a form of vitamin E) which may have cholesterol-lowering activity in humans;
- Amaranth consists of 6-10% predominantly unsaturated oil;
- High in linoleic acid;
- The Amaranth leaf contains higher calcium, iron, and phosphorus levels than spinach.
Amaranth was a basic food item for the Aztecs. So basic, that they even incorporated it into their human sacrifice rituals -- sometimes mixing Amaranth flour with human blood to make a macabre version of gingerbread men, which they then ate in religious ceremonies. The Spanish priests were completely abhorred -- they were obviously a bit more queasy than their colleagues at home conducting the Spanish inquisition -- and reacted by banning cultivation of the plant, and obliterating it wherever they found it: it only survived because it was grown in remote parts of the Andes and Mexico.
In the 1960s, Rodale Research Center in Pennsylvania, USA, reintroduced Amaranth and set about popularizing it. Currently (2004), it is still mostly considered a "health-food".
Literature & Lore
GrainsAmaranth; Barley; Buckwheat; Cereals; Corn; Flax; Grains; Kamut; Millet; Oats; Quinoa; Red River Cereal; Rice; Rye; Sorghum; Spelt; Teff; Triticale; Wheat
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