Amaranth is a wonderful seed that dates back to the pre-Columbian Aztecs. Although amaranth is technically a seed, we enjoy it much like a grain. The amaranth grains we consume are the seeds of the flowers from the amaranth plant, and each plant can produce about 60,000 seeds! Amaranth is in the same family as swish chard, spinach, and quinoa, and surprisingly has many nutritional characteristics to the dark leafy greens.
Amaranth is much more like Swiss chard than wheat. It contains about four times as much calcium as wheat, and twice as much iron and magnesium. Amaranth contains more than three times the average amount fiber, and is also high in phosphorus and potassium. It’s also the only grain documented to contain Vitamin C. Additionally, it is a protein powerhouse containing all the essential amino acids, and specifically lysine which most non-animal protein sources lack (similar to quinoa). It is also gluten-free so it makes a great substitute for those who have gluten intolerance.
When it comes to cooking Amaranth, it can be simmered like other grains and will have a porridge-like texture. It can be combined with other grains if you desire a more "rice-like" dish. It can also be popped in a skillet like popcorn, which gives it a nutty flavor and crunchy texture. In Mexico, amaranth is popped like popcorn and mixed with honey, molasses or chocolate to make a popular treat called "alegría" (meaning "joy").
Amaranth porridge: Combine 1c seeds with two and a half cups water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for up to 20 minutes, until grains are fluffy and water is absorbed. For a porridge-like consistency, use slightly more water (three cups for one cup of grain) and cook a little longer.
To “pop” amaranth: preheat a pot or skillet over high heat (must be very hot), and add amaranth seeds one or two tablespoons at a time (adding too many seeds at once can cause them to burn). Continuously stir the seeds with a spoon as they pop, and once mostly popped, quickly remove from pan. Repeat with more seeds if desired. Popped amaranth can be enjoyed on its own or served with your milk of choice and fruit for a healthy breakfast.
Remember when you have cooked your amaranth and taste it see how it is, it never loses its crunch completely, but rather softens on the inside while maintaining enough outer integrity so that the grains seem to pop between your teeth.
Amaranth is safe for any age of eaters already eating solid foods. As mentioned, amaranth can be made into a porridge making it an awesome breakfast alternative to regular oatmeal for your young eaters. Popped amaranth is great for those children who have a corn allergy and can’t enjoy popcorn. It also makes for wonderful smoothie add-in, like you would with oatmeal.
Additionally, amaranth is available in flour form lending itself to endless incorporation to recipes. Check out this amaranth flat bread recipe, it is great for young eaters to gum on and perfect for toddler snack time sandwiches.
How do you prefer to cook your amaranth? Let us know!
Written by: Anna Cayot
References: DrWeil.com; WholeGrainsCouncil.org; WHfoods.org
Photo credits: headline photo http://www.bioversityinternational.org/ top photo- ChoosingRaw.com; NaturallyElla.com