By Jessica Squibb
Amaranth was first made popular by ancient civilizations in South America and Mexico where it was consumed as food, used as a dye and in religious ceremonies.
While its use waned, amaranth re-entered the spotlight in recent years due to the fact it’s gluten free and one of the most nutritious grains available.
While technically a seed, amaranth is considered a grain due to the way it’s often prepared, as porridge, like other cereal grains. With more protein than wheat, this tiny white seed is an excellent source of lysine, an amino acid (protein) that is easily digestible.
Amaranth is also an excellent source of calcium, which is necessary for maintaining strong bones and teeth, as well as for muscle contraction, and magnesium.
So if you’re like me and don’t consume dairy products, incorporating foods such as amaranth into the diet is important for ensuring adequate intake of this vital mineral.
But it’s also crucial to consider magnesium, a mineral that often works in tandem with calcium. In fact, magnesium is crucial for the absorption of calcium. Magnesium is also cited to act as a natural tranquilizer by relaxing skeletal muscles and those in blood vessels and gastrointestinal tract. If you experience frequent headaches or muscle cramping, you’ll want to add magnesium-rich foods such as amaranth to your diet.
Feeling fatigued? You may be low in iron, another mineral present in amaranth. Iron has many important functions from helping with brain development to forming haemoglobin in the red blood cells, which transports oxygen throughout the body. Plant sources of iron are of particular importance to vegetarians who may struggle to meet their daily requirements.
Symptoms of deficiency include not only fatigue but also general malaise, irritability, lack of concentration and pale skin. Try topping cooked amaranth with a vitamin C-rich food, such as strawberries, to increase iron absorption.
Amaranth is currently cultivated in the United States, where it is heralded by farmers for thriving in even harsh conditions.
Growing up to six-feet tall, the amaranth flower can produce upward of 60,000 seeds and is a relative of quinoa, beets, Swiss chard and spinach.
Both the seeds and leaves are edible and can be sourced from health food, bulk and speciality grocers around Toronto. Once purchased, amaranth should be stored in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator as its high oil content will cause it to go rancid under other conditions.
I usually prepare amaranth as porridge for breakfast. To prepare it this way, combine one cup of seeds with three cups of water in a pot and bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes or until water is absorbed. I add a varying combination of seeds, nuts and fruit, along with cinnamon and coconut oil but you can really customize the toppings to your liking.
Another breakfast idea is to toast amaranth seeds and eat them like a cold cereal, topped with milk or a non-dairy beverage. To do this, heat a pan or pot on high heat and add amaranth a couple of tablespoons at a time (this will reduce the chances of it burning). Stir until they begin to pop and then quickly remove them from heat.
Amaranth can also be enjoyed as a side dish; in this case, to ensure the grains are fluffy and not gummy, reduce water to 2 1/2 cups and time to 20 minutes. For a boost of flavour, replace water with broth. Amaranth flour is available, too, and can be used to thicken soups and gravies or in baking, although for the latter, it’s advisable to combine with another gluten-free grain to avoid a dense product.
If you’ve tried amaranth, I’d love to hear how you incorporate it into your meals.
Jessica’s first foray into the food industry was in Grade 5 when she wrote The Sweet Tooth Recipe Book and sold to raise money for the Hospital for Sick Children. While her sweet tooth has subsided, her passion for healthy living has grown and is what led her to a career in food and beverage communications. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaSquibb.