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Amaranth: The Miracle Grain

by Bree West

Though many people haven't heard of this grain, it has actually been around for a very long time. The Aztec and Mayan people living in Central America used amaranth as a staple in their diets. The Aztecs considered amaranth to be a "miracle grain" though it's actually not technically a grain, but an herb, of which there are about sixty varieties.

amaranth_the_miracle_grain_imageThe Aztec people believed amaranth to have supernatural powers that would give those who ate it great strength. Because they believed this, amaranth was one of the main foods eaten by Aztec royalty and was also used in many religious rituals that included human sacrifice. Aztec women would mix ground amaranth with honey and human blood and shape the paste into different figures, such as a bird, and bake them. These baked amaranth figures were eaten during the religious ceremonies.

When Spanish explorers came along and discovered this practice they were blown away! The Spanish figured that if they took away the amaranth, it would also take away the sacrifice of humans, so they burned all of the amaranth crops. Thus amaranth became a lost seed for many years. Today, amaranth is grown in Mexico, Peru, Nepal, and the United States.

Amaranth is a part of Amaranthaceae which is a family of leafy, bushy plants that has a flowered head with magenta flowers. Amaranth actually means "never fading flower" in Greek, and is so called because of this deeply colored flower. For a long time, amaranth was considered a weed, but is now known for its high nutrient content. Each amaranth plant produces about 40,000 to 60,000 tiny round seeds, which vary in color but are typically a golden color. It's this seed that that we see and purchase at the store. Other varieties can be dark purple, red, green, orange, pink, and white.

Amaranth seeds are made up of 15–18 percent protein, and though it's not a true grain, this makes it a great grain food as most real grains are deficient in the essential amino acids lysine and methionine, and amaranth provides both. Amaranth is a complete protein especially when combined with grains such as wheat or rice, and is easily absorbed. In fact, it's about ninety percent digestible. Just one cup of amaranth provides about sixty percent of an adult's daily requirement of protein. Amaranth also is naturally gluten free, making it a great “grain” alternative for those following a gluten free diet. Another important thing to note about amaranth is that it’s diabetic friendly because it has a low glycemic impact.

red_amaranth_seeds_picAmaranth is also a great source of quality fiber. It’s about twenty-five percent higher in fiber than whole wheat! It’s also higher than most other grains in its mineral, vitamin, and healthy fat content. Amaranth is particularly high in iron, calcium, and magnesium. In fact, this seed has about twice as much calcium as does milk, and the ratio of calcium to magnesium in amaranth is about 1:2, a healthy and desirable ratio, especially because many people today get sufficient calcium but are deficient in magnesium.

Amaranth is also a great source of vitamins B2, B3, B5, B6, C, and folate and the minerals manganese, copper, zinc, and potassium. There are also high amounts of Vitamin E, a very important vitamin for heart health. Vitamin E helps protect the heart by lowering high cholesterol levels. Another fat found in amaranth, called squalene, is also very good at helping to reduce cholesterol levels and thus improve cardiovascular health.

Unlike grains, amaranth is high in phytosterols, compounds that greatly help prevent a number of chronic degenerative diseases.

Around the world, amaranth is also used medicinally. For example, in Peru the flowers of the amaranth plant are used to treat toothaches and fevers. They also use the flowers for their deep color to make cosmetic and food dyes. In Ecuador the amaranth flowers are boiled and this causes the color of the flowers to leach into the water. This colored water is then consumed and is believed to help purify the blood and normalize and regulate the female menstrual cycle.

Amaranth can be found at most grocery stores today, and comes in a variety of forms, including the amaranth seed, popped amaranth, amaranth flour, and in various packaged products, such as cereals. Because amaranth contains high amounts of oils like vitamin E, once it has been ground into flour it is best to store it in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer, which will help to protect the oils from going rancid. When purchasing amaranth seeds, do not buy ones that have a bitter smell, which is a sign of spoilage. Also, look for seeds that are uniform in color. Amaranth can be kept and stored for several months, especially when kept in the fridge or freezer.

Amaranth Pancakes

    • 2 eggs
    • 1/2 cup apple juice ( or milk)
    • 2 teaspoons coconut oil
    • 1/2 cup amaranth flour
    • 1/2 cup tapioca flour
    • 6 tablespoons arrowroot
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon ( or try pumpkin pie spice)
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Get the directions at food.com

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