Continuing in the series of global grains, next up is amaranth! Similar to quinoa, amaranth actually isn’t a grain but a seed. Because of the nutritional profile and uses, it is often considered part of the “grains” category. The plant as a whole has many uses both historically and in today’s time. Amaranth is versatile when it comes to cooking and has a lot to offer nutritionally.
The name “amaranth” comes from Greek origins meaning “one that does not wither” or “the never-fading”. Amaranth lives up to this name because its bright colors remain even after harvesting and drying. The plant can grow up to 5-7 feet tall with large green leaves and bright purple, red, or gold flowers. Some amaranth varieties are considered weeds. However, others have been grown as a food source as well as ornamental or decorative purposes. Amaranth is a very resilient and adaptive plant as it can grow in higher elevations and are drought resistant.
Amaranth was very prominent in Aztec culture and was one of the three major crops produced along with maize and beans. Amaranth was not only a food item for the Aztecs, but also a ceremonial item. In a ceremony for the Aztec god of war, Huitzlipochtli, an image of the god was created from a mix of amaranth and honey and was then broken into pieces and distributed to the people to eat. When the Spanish arrived with Cortez, this grain was outlawed because of its pagan religious associations. Small amounts survived which is how it is still present in that area today. Amaranth is thought to be native to Peru and other areas of South and Central America. However, there is historical evidence of its existence in China, Russia, and Eastern Europe.
You can include amaranth into your meals in a variety of ways. Although the root, leaves, and seeds can all be consumed, it is more common to utilize only the seeds. These seeds are very tiny, about a millimeter in diameter! They can be ground into a flour, used as a substitute for cereals, added to stews, soups or granola bars, and can even be popped like popcorn. Amaranth is a great plant-based protein that is also a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and can be used as a gluten-free alternative in a lot of different dishes.
Here are some recipes to try out: