If the name amaranth doesn't ring a bell, perhaps you've heard of the Southeast Asian dish saag or you've had the opportunity to eat the Mexican treat alegría. Or maybe you've heard of quinoa, a similar ancient wonder food that was a staple of the Aztec and Maya diet.
Amaranth is the common name for more than 60 different species of amaranthus — plants that are easily recognizable by their broad leaves and bright-colored flowers. It's been cultivated for more than 6,000 years and, despite being nearly eliminated during the Spanish conquest, it remains an important food source in Central America and South America, as well as Africa, India and Nepal. It's also growing in popularity in China, Russia, Thailand, and Nigeria.
You can eat the buds, leaves, seeds, and roots of this plant. The seeds are used to make amaranth flour and cereal, while the leaves are nutritionally similar to beets, Swiss chard, and spinach — and they can also be used in salads.
- In many South American countries, it is popped like corn and sold on the streets.
- In India, Mexico, Nepal, and Peru, it's a traditional ingredient in breakfast porridge.
- In Mexico, popped amaranth is mixed with sugar and honey to make a sugary treat called alegría.
The plant is packed with nutrients. The seeds are high in potassium, zinc, and Vitamin B, and can contain more than 20 percent protein. The leaves, on the other hand, contain three times as much more calcium and niacin (vitamin B3) than spinach leaves. Plus, it's naturally gluten-free.
Amaranth is easy to harvest, prepare, and cook.
- A single dried flower head produces thousands of seeds.
- These seeds can be roasted, popped, boiled, or turned into flour.
- Young leaves are mild in flavor and good to use in salads.
- Mature leaves can be substituted in any recipe that calls for spinach.
- Alegrías (gluten free, dairy free, meat free)
- Amaranth-Honey Bread (meat free)
- Amaranth, Cranberry, and Mint Salad (gluten free, dairy free, meat free)
- Amaranth, Quinoa, and Polenta Porridge (gluten free, dairy free, meat free)
- Amaranth Bread with Cumin-Spiced Potatoes (gluten free, dairy free, meat free)
- Amaranth Eggplant Burgers with Sriracha Tahini Sauce (gluten free, dairy free, meat free)
- Popped Amaranth Crunch (gluten free, dairy free, meat free)
- Tofu Amaranth Salad (gluten free, dairy free, meat free)
Warning: Only consume plants you can positively identify and know are safe to eat.