For the Love of Amaranth

Raluca Schachter

Raluca Schachter › Raluca Schachter is a passionate Nutritionist and Metabolic Typing Advisor®, with a background in both nutrition ...

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“Never overlook what’s in front of your eyes,” says an old adage.

But when your garden is full of amaranth weeds, there is no way you can “overlook” these!

Or is there?

On a hot summer day last year I met an old man in his 80s that told me how these “weeds” saved him, his family and many others from famine back in 1940, in my home country. He was pointing to a part of my parents’ garden where there was a patch of these amaranth plants, that we have abandoned in our fight to pull them all out… The old man told me they used to make soup out of the plant’s leaves. I can’t imagine how that would taste though… I also found out that farmers have been feeding this plant to their pigs for a long time. This would be the common pigweed many of us heard of.

Since I’ve been using amaranth grain and flour myself for a few years now, and knew of its nutritional value, all these new stories made it even more interesting of a food to me!

So here is a little bit more about it…

Amaranth has been used since ancient times throughout the world. It is technically a seed, not a grain. Among the huge number of varieties, several of them are practically a weed that can be seen in many gardens starting  May and their resistance, invasive tendency and deep roots can drive gardeners mad in their fight to conquer them!

But as I come to learn, this versatile, gluten free plant is actually chock-full of nutrients! It has a high content of the minerals calcium, magnesium, iron and of the amino acid Lysine. Amaranth seeds are also high in potassium, zinc, Vitamin B and E and can contain over 20% protein (depending on the variety). Amaranth leaves contain three times more calcium and three times more niacin (vitamin B3) than spinach leaves! No wonder it CAN save somebody from famine…

Developing a taste for it is indeed a very smart choice for everyone that wants to improve their health and re-consider grain consumption.

People are continuously interested in alternatives of using ancient grains, due to widespread of health problems like gluten sensitivities, obesity and celiac disease (Celiac Awareness Month is celebrated in May), stemming from processed gluten grains consumption. Since grains like regular wheat are opiates, people feel it’s really hard to break the addiction, so learning about how to use healthy alternatives like amaranth is essential.

Here are some ideas of how to use amaranth at any time of the day:

BREAKFAST

You can use amaranth flour combined with other gluten free flours to make delicious pancakes, porridges, waffles and short breads. The flour has a somewhat strong, distinctive taste and smell, similar to fresh green grass. Once it’s combined with other flours this is not that striking anymore, although many people are not bothered by this.  If you want to try it out for your morning meals, check out these recipes:

LUNCH and DINNER

Amaranth whole grain can be soaked overnight (to neutralize phytic acid that interferes with mineral absorption) and then drained and cooked on low heat (1 cup seeds in 2.5 cups water for approximately 18-20 minutes).

Don’t overcook them as they become “gummy”. It has a different taste when used as a whole grain/ seed. It has a mild, sweet nutty flavor and you can enhance this flavor by gently sautee it with vegetables and butter.

You can use it as a side dish in place of rice, pasta or potatoes with another health benefit, since it has a much lower glycemic index than these three. The Glycemic Index is a numerical scale used to indicate how fast and how high a particular food can raise our blood glucose (blood sugar) level.
You can also use amaranth seeds in most soups and stews and mix it with ground meats. Although this is more a fall and winter dish, where I mixed amaranth with ground meat, it is one of my favorites – Sauerkraut beef and pork rolls or “Sarmale.”

SNACKS
You can use amaranth seeds or flour in almost any crackers recipe, by substituting with approximately 1/2 cup of amaranth flour and the rest of 1 – 1.5 cups use a different flour like buckwheat, brown rice, quinoa and coconut. I noticed that you can use cooked amaranth seeds very well in place of flour, since this gives a milder, nuttier outcome to your recipes. Also, when cooking with gluten free flours you have to remember to add more eggs. Be courageous and experiment, it might not come out perfect the first time but with practice you can change your grain recipes so much for the better!

Resources:

TropicalPermaculture.com

NutritionData.com

WholeGrainCouncil.org

Have you ever cooked or baked with Amaranth? What’s been the most successful dish you’ve made with it?

This article originally appeared on Guide2Health.net. It is re-posted here with permission from the author.

Photo Credit: PlantsPeople