What is amaranth?

What is amaranth?

Team ErbologyErbology

A symbol of Aztec power and a staple in the modern kitchen, find out why this naturally gluten-free grain has been cultivated for at least 8000 years, and why it's so good for you.

June 20, 2022 3:49 pm

The origins of amaranth grain

Huitzilopochtli, one of the most important festivals of the pre-conquest Aztec world, saw people decorating their homes and trees with strings of brightly colored paper flags. They paraded in ceremonial dress, singing and dancing their way through the streets of Tenochtitlan and Cholula.

The brilliant red plaster of colossal stepped temples stretched defiantly into the sky; a symbol of Aztec power. Rows of flag-covered houses flapped in unison. The people chanted prayers, dancing rhythmically and thumping their drums, the emperor standing at centre stage, adorned with a ruffle of Quetzal feathers.

For the people of Mesoamerica, the gods were not separated from nature. Rather, the characteristics of nature were interpreted into the personalities of different gods. In turn, the influence of the gods could be seen in the natural world.

Amaranth is a perfect example of this exchange between the natural and the divine. This tall plant, with its broad, green leaves, was so important that during Huitzilopochtli, the community used its seeds to build a divine statue.

So, while this powerful grain might be new to Western kitchens, it has been revered since ancient times in other parts of the world. And, indeed, it still is. Celebrations for the Mexican Día de los Muertos still feature skulls decorated with amaranth seeds.

what is amaranth

Amaranth seed or amaranth grain?

Amaranth is a pesudocereal. This simply means that it is a seed which acts like a grain. While that might sound unusual, some of your other pantry staples fall into this category, too. Buckwheat and quinoa are both pseudocereals, although we often think of them as grains.

A food becomes a pseudocereal by virtue of how we eat it. And, since amaranth has been eaten much like any other grain for thousands of years, it happily sits within the pseudocereal family.

Amaranth grain is smaller than other ‘grains’ such as quinoa, and looks quite seed-like. It has a pleasant, nutty flavor, and it’s also very versatile. You can eat amaranth grain in place of rice, bulgar or quinoa alongside a hot savory meal. When cooked with liquid it has a thickening effect similar to that of oats.

However, amaranth also works very well with sweet flavors. It can be ground into a brilliant gluten-free flour and used in baking. Its nutty flavor works brilliantly in cakes and cookies.

Another popular way of eating amaranth is to pop or puff the seeds. This is just like making popcorn from corn kernels, and it gives the amaranth a lovely crunchy, fluffy texture. Puffed amaranth is a great way of topping sweet and savory dishes, or mixing into cookies for a bit of added crunch.

So, now you know how easy it is to use amaranth, let’s look at its benefits.

cooked and raw amaranth grain

"Not only is amaranth extremely high in fiber, it’s also the leading natural plant-based source for squalene."

Amaranth is naturally gluten-free.

Whether you have celiac disease or are just sensitive to gluten, amaranth has got you covered. Unlike some other cereals, it’s naturally completely free of gluten.

You can treat amaranth in much the same way as quinoa. It blends perfectly into either hot, cold, sweet or savory meals and has a moreish earthy taste. We think it falls somewhere between wheat, berries and brown rice.

When you cook amaranth grain you will notice that it has a similar texture to steel cut oats, just slightly crunchier. It works well as a thickener for sauces, soups or stews. On top of that, you can incorporate it into breads, pancakes, and even cookies.

Adding a portion of amaranth to you cooking is a great way of making it gluten-free and easily upgrading the overall nutritional value of your dish.

amaranth granola

Amaranth grain contains high quality protein

Amaranth is high in protein, but more specifically, it contains amino acids which your body needs to function well.

A cup of cooked amaranth (246g) grain has 9.3g of protein, which is roughly a fifth of the daily requirement.(1) For a quick reminder, protein is made up of 20 amino acids. Eleven of these we can produce and the other nine we must obtain from our diet. When a food contains all nine of these amino acids, it is called a ‘complete protein’.

Amaranth grain contains 18 amino acids and is considered an almost complete protein source.

It’s also high in fiber

We all know that we could benefit from a high-fiber diet. Fiber is essential for healthy digestion, and to make sure you get the most out of the other nutrients you eat.

With over 5g of fiber, a cup of cooked amaranth grain satisfies about a fifth of our daily fiber needs.(1)

Research indicates that 78% of the fiber in amaranth is insoluble and 22% is soluble.(2) Insoluble fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, while soluble fiber forms a gel-like structure and traps fats, sugars, bacteria and toxins. Both types have important benefits for your health, and amaranth can put you well on your way to reaching your recommended daily amount of overall fiber.

Not only does fiber in amaranth aid our digestion, it also helps to naturally lower cholesterol levels.

Fiber acts on bile, pulling it out of the body with more frequent bowel movements. Bile is comprised of water, fats and cholesterol. Because of this process, the liver has to make more bile, which uses up the body’s cholesterol stores, lowering cholesterol overall.<