What is it?
The Grain Free Path to Good Health
Amaranth is an attractive plant with edible leaves and seeds. The seeds are tiny and cream coloured.
Because this plant is an herb and not a grass, the seeds are grain free and gluten free.
Commonly, when people talk about amaranth, they’re referring to the seed and the various forms that it comes in. And while it is a seed, it is known as, and eaten as, a grain.
And on that note, I will continue to call it a grain on this site to avoid confusion, depite my compulsion to call it a seed, especially on a site like this where we are talking about anything but grains......
What do I do with it?
This tiny grain is amazingly versatile.
It can be boiled in water, like rice, as an accompaniment to a meal, into a porridge or as the base for desserts.
It can be puffed (just like popcorn or rice puffs) or flaked and used as a breakfast cereal or in savoury recipes like gratin, as a topping.
It can also be ground into a flour which is great for sweet and savoury baking. Because it is a seed, it can be sprouted and eaten as a vegetable.
Where does it come from?
Amaranth, like its cousin in popularity, quinoa, has made a recent emergence into the western, commercial market.
It originates from South America and has existed there for over 5000 years, where it has been cultivated as a crop and has also grown wild. There are hundreds of different varieties, some with a higher seed yield, others specifically grown for the leaves.
The Aztecs, Incas and Mayans of Mesoamerica all recognised its nutritional properties and included it in their diet. For the Aztecs, it was used not only as a staple food, but also in religious ceremonies.
When the Spanish invaded around the 15th century, the association of amaranth with the Aztec ritual lead to it being banned - especially seeing as they found some of the rituals pretty disturbing, involving mixtures of amaranth and human blood, which was then eaten.
This hardy plant, however, continued to grow, in the more remote areas, both as a weed and cultivated by the locals in secret. And so, it survived to the modern day where it has been ‘rediscovered’ and has most likely found its way to your local health food store.
The most notable nutritional quality of amaranth is its high protein content. It is a complete protein, which means that it contains all of the essential amino acids (different types of protein) required by the human body. This is not commonly found in a non-animal food source. The mix and quantities of the amino acids in amaranth make it easy to digest.
And the good news doesn’t end there. It is a good source of calcium, fibre, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and iron.
One cup of the cooked grain contains approximately 45g carbohydrate, of which about 5g is fibre. The carbohydrate content is lower than most other gluten free grains.
It is a good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids and it contains vitamin E in similar amounts to olive oil.
So, that said, let’s have a look at all the different ways you can prepare it and get it into yourself:
How Do I Cook It?
1. Mix 2½ cups of water with 1 cup grain in a saucepan.
2. Bring to the boil and simmer until all the water has been absorbed - approximately 15-20 minutes.
3. If you overcook it, the grains will clump together and become gummy.
The puffs can be bought at a health food store. Or you can puff them yourself. See next section for instructions.
Add amaranth puffs to cereal, or make it as a cereal on its own. Simply add your choice of milk and optionally a sweetener like drizzled honey, raisons, sugar, etc.
You can also make a crunchy topping for a casserole or oven baked dish by sprinkling puffed amaranth as a top layer and then adding shredded cheese on top.
Puffing grains and seeds is done by placing the grain/seed under high heat and/or pressure. It's really easy when you do it with corn, not so easy with seeds like amaranth, quinoa or buckwheat. But this doesn't mean you can't do it, you just have to make sure you get the conditions exactly right.
Unlike popping corn and some other grains and seeds, you don't need oil to make amaranth puffs.
How to Puff Amaranth
1. Pre-heat a heavy based saucepan on high. Ceramic stoneware type saucepans, such as Corningware, get a good result. It needs to be a saucepan rather than a frying pan because as the seeds puff, they jump….so you need to keep them contained if you want any left in the pan by the end. And you need to stir, so you can’t use a lid.
2. Pour a single layer of the raw grains into the heated saucepan and stir continuously to avoid burning.
The grains will start to pop within about 10 seconds.
3. Remove from heat as soon as the majority have popped so they don’t burn.
Amaranth flakes are rolled and flattened grains. This makes them quicker to cook and the consistency when cooked is smoother. They can be boiled in water to make porridge, or added as they are to cookie or cake recipes. You can even eat them uncooked, the way rolled oats are eaten in muesli.
To cook porridge from amaranth flakes:
Mix 1 cup flakes with 1 ½ cups water in a saucepan.
Bring to the boil and simmer until thick - it will only take a couple of minutes.
Because it is a seed, you can sprout it and have your own fresh produce when you want it. Once a grain or seed sprouts, the nutrition increases dramatically, so sprouts are a great addition to your grain and gluten free diet.
How to Sprout Amaranth
Soak the grains in water for 2 - 12 hours in a cool spot out away from heat and light.
Drain the grains well and put into a wide mouthed glass jar. Cover with cheesecloth, mesh or other similarly light cloth. Pantyhose work well, I’ve found. Secure the cloth with a rubber band. Rest lengthways (to allow the sprouts to spread out) in a cool place away from direct sunlight.
Rinse and drain 1 - 2 times per day
After 2 – 3 days, you will notice that the grains have grown a small sprout. This is when they are ready to use. Rinse and drain. Keep in the refrigerator and use within 2 weeks.
You can buy amaranth already milled into a flour. Visit the amaranth flour page by clicking here for all the details on this nutritious flour, how to use it, where to find it and how to store it.
You’ll even find a few recipes to get you started/enthusiastic/drooling.
Store the grains and the flour in a cool, dry place. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. This is the recommended storage time, however, I have kept mine twice as long and they are still fine. The dry climate I live in may well have something to do with this.
So, ready to try it out?
Here is a simple recipe using the cooked grains. I’ve seen it reproduced in various places lately, so that's some indication of its popularity.
Amaranth Pudding Recipe
2 cups amaranth, cooked
1 cup apple juice
½ cup raisins
½ cup almonds, finely chopped
1 ½ tsp vanilla
juice of half a lemon
grated rind of one lemon
dash of cinnamon
Combine ingredients in a large sauce pan, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Pour pudding into individual dessert bowls. Top with a few grapes or strawberries and chill. Serves 4
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