The Amaranthus genus is one of about 160 genera in the flowering plant family Amaranthaceae. Members of this family have simple leaves that are opposite or alternate, with margins entire or coarsely toothed, and without stipules. The flowers are solitary or aggregated in cymes, spikes, or panicles and typically perfect (bisexual) and actinomorphic. A few species have unisexual flowers. The bracteate flowers are regular with 4 – 5 petals, often joined. There are 1 – 5 stamens. The hypogynous ovary has 3 – 5 joined sepals.
Red-root Amaranth (A. retroflexus)—from Thomé, Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885
Collectively known as amaranth (or pigweed), the Amaranthus genus is a cosmopolitan taxon of herbs. Approximately 70 species are presently recognized, with inflorescences and foliage ranging from purple and red to gold. Members of this genus share many characteristics and uses with members of the closely related genus Celosia.
Although amaranth is cultivated on a small scale in various parts of the world, including in parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, India, and Nepal, and various African nations such as Nigeria, there is potential for further cultivation in the United States and tropical countries and it is often referred to as “the crop of the future”.
Amaranth seeds are as tiny as a poppy seed, but each plant can produce up to 100,000 seeds or more. The colour of the seed ranges from wild varieties in a black and cultivated varieties that are lighter in colour and sometimes with a pink tinge.
Like quinoa, Amaranth is an ancient, protein-packed seed. The tiny poppy seed-size “grain” was a staple of the Aztecs and Mayans.
Amaranth seeds have such as malty, slightly nutty flavour and are extremely tasty. Amaranth can be roasted, popped, boiled, and added to other dishes, making it a versatile pantry item.
Amaranth is gluten free and its seeds contain about 30 percent more protein than rice, sorghum, and rye. It is also relatively high in calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, niacin (vitamin B), vitamin B6 and fibre. Amaranth’s amino acid profile is as close to perfect as you can get for a protein source. The plant contains eight essential amino acids and is particularly high in the amino acid lysine, which is largely lacking in corn and wheat. Some studies have shown that amaranth also contains beneficial omega-3’s and may help reduce blood pressure.
Macro Shot Of Puffed Amaranth
During the pre-Columbian period, the Aztec’s cultivated amaranth as a staple grain crop. Things changed radically when the Spanish conquistadors arrived. Native folks would pop the seeds and mix them with sacrificial human blood. Form sculptures with the seeds and then eat them at religious ceremonies. This was seen as pagan by the Spanish and was outlawed. Amaranth crops were seized, fields were burnt, anyone caught growing the plant were punished. Thus forcing the locals to replace their former staple with corn. Cultivation of Amaranth did survive in a few isolated pockets. The grain lived on in a traditional treat called alegria (joy), a delicious naturally sweet bar made of Amaranth seeds along with honey, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. The bars are often enjoyed during Day of the Dead and other festivals.
Amaranth may have some environmental advantages over corn. The plant needs less water to grow, which is particularly important in water-stressed areas. Amaranth can exist up to 40 days without rain and still produce seeds, unlike corn. Amaranth not only grows fast but also is extremely quick to harvest. It is a good income source as it is valued as one bushel brings four times more money than other grains.
Besides baking the meal in tortillas, people are starting to experiment more with the foliage of the plant, by putting them into soups and blending it into smoothies. When the Amaranth flour is used in baking it is not used a lone; it usually only replaces 15% of wheat flour; as any more of the Amaranth flour will make the bread far more denser, far too moist and less palatable. One can make 100% Amaranth flour biscuits, muffins and other quick breads and certain types of pastries. Seeds can also be popped like popcorn, cooked into porridge, added to muesli or a homemade granola. The more wild the plant the more the peppery taste lingers.
There is quite a bit of variation among amaranths; some are weeds (e.g. pigweed), some are used as ornamentals, and some are grown as grain crops. Quinoa is also in the Amaranthaceae family, and both quinoa and the grain amaranths are commonly grown in South America, India, and other places for their seed grain. Even most of the grain amaranths are very ‘ornamental’ with inflorescences (flowers) that are red, pink, purple, orange, or yellow. In fact, they are said to be some of the most beautiful agricultural fields in the world from a visual perspective.
There are three main types of Amaranths grown for seed grain:
A. hypochondriacus is the most commonly grown species. It was originally grown by the Aztec’s, whom called it huahtli. It is very common in South America.
A. cruentus is known as Mexican grain Amaranth, being the second most commonly grown grain originally cultivated in Mexico. It made its way to Eastern Asia a very long time ago and has been cultivated there more for its leaves than the plants seeds; used as a vegetable as an addition to salads. The smaller the leaves the more tender they are; steamed like spinach or accompanied fresh in a salad.
A. caudatus is the third most common grown grain of Amaranth. Originally cultivated in the valleys of the Andes.
English names for A caudatus: Love lies bleeding, love lies ‘a bleeding, tassel flower, tassel amaranth, Inca wheat, foxtail amaranth, velvet flower……………. In Spain known as Kiwicha, Amaranto………………In Portugal known as Amaranto de cauda………….
Amaranth is a very tall plant which can grow up to 170cm in height depending on growing and light conditions. They branch out quite a bit. If planting many plants together make sure there is a spacing of 45cm between plants. It grows well in both arid and humid conditions with a fertile and a good draining soil. Grows brilliantly in full sun and also does relatively well in partial shade. It makes an awesome and colourful display that one admires. The seeds mature at different rates so keep an eye on the tassels once they start from about the forth week test to see if they are dry enough. To harvest clip off the tassel and harvest the seeds by threshing into a cloth bag to free the seed. Removing the tiny petals takes a bit of time, but then practice makes perfect.
Puffed Amaranth Seed’s
Keep a jar of protein packed seeds ready to be added to your favourite muesli, granola or porridge, or use it like popcorn.
• As a breakfast cereal. Simmered just right, amaranth has a sweetness and porridge-like consistency that make it a delicious cereal. Use a ratio of 1 1/2 cups liquid to 1/2 cup amaranth. (Yield: 1 1/2 cups cooked.) Place amaranth and water or apple juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Keep a close eye on it towards the end and then serve it right away, as it will turn gummy and congeal if overcooked or left to sit. Add fruit, nuts, cinnamon, and/or sweetener.
• Popped. Toast a tablespoon of amaranth seeds a time in a hot, dry skillet. Continually shake or stir until the seeds pop. Eat them as a snack or use them to top soups, salads, and vegetable dishes. We’ve also heard that popped amaranth can be used to bread tofu or meat but haven’t given it a try yet. Sometimes referred to as puffed amaranth, here’s what happens when you pour a few tablespoons of amaranth grains onto a very hot surface – they pop!
• Combined with other grains. When cooked with another grain, such as brown rice, amaranth doesn’t overwhelm with its sticky consistency but adds a nutty sweetness. Use a ratio of 1/4 cup amaranth to 3/4 cup other grain and cook as usual.
• Added to soups and stews. Take advantage of amaranth’s gelatinous quality and use it to thicken soup. A couple of tablespoons added while the soup is cooking is usually sufficient.
This gluten-free, dairy-free bread:
Made deliciously using puffed Amaranth
Prepare this bread in an 8″ x 8″ or 9″ x 9″ glass casserole dish, a pie pan or as individual mini (or regular) muffins. Just use what will suit your needs. This is a moist bread, so you don’t want to use a bread or loaf pan for baking—the batter centre will not cook. Any glass pan that will fill with batter 3/4 before baking will work great. The bread will rise the difference when baked.
Sifter or mesh, metal strainer
2 medium or large glass bowls
Silicone spatula or large spoon
Unbleached parchment paper (or if you are using muffin tins, unbleached muffin/cupcake liners)
8″ x 8″ or 9″ x 9″ glass casserole dish or
Glass pie pan or
Muffin tins or Mini muffin tins
1 cup almond meal/flour
1 1/4 cups brown rice flour
1 1/2 cups popped amaranth grain (you’ll need 5-7 tblsps un-popped popped in a pan like stipulated further up in the post)
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt flakes
1 tblsp coconut oil
2 tblsps local-harvested honey
1 red apple, cored and seeded
1/4 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed
3/4 cup water
2 tsps chia seeds
Preheat the oven to 180.C degrees. Line the muffin tins or pan with parchment paper and set aside.
Add the water to a blending jug along with the chia seeds and set aside. In the meantime pop those amaranth seeds in a hot pan with a lid as stipulated further up in the post. Once popped set the puffed amaranth aside and off the heat to avoid burning.
Add the prepared red apple along with the freshly squeezed lime, coconut oil and honey to the blending jug and blend until thoroughly mixed.
In a large bowl, sift the almond flour, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt.
Pour the wet ingredients from the blender into large bowl with the dry ingredients and fold until well mixed using a spatula. Fold in puffed amaranth.
Spread into pan with silicone spatula or spoon into tins (fill minis and fill full-size tins 3/4 way).
Bake pans for 30 minutes and muffins 20-25 minutes, or until a bamboo skewer inserted comes out clean. You can drizzle with extra honey and top with extra puffed amaranth upon serving.
Savoury Amaranth Fritters:
These savoury cakes make a delicious appetizer or side dish.
1 cup Amaranth
1 tblsp onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock 1 organic egg
1 tblsp organic flour
1 tblsp fresh basil, chopped
Oil, to fry Place amaranth, onion, garlic, salt and stock in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover, reduce heat and cook until all liquid is absorbed, about 40 minutes.
Transfer amaranth to a bowl and let cool.
Add egg, flour and freshly chopped basil; mix well.
Heat a shallow amount of oil suitable for frying over medium-high heat in a wide skillet. Drop batter into hot oil 2 tblsps at a time. Cook until browned, turning once, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Serve with tomato sauce or salsa.
Makes 15 servings.
The flowers of the ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranth were used by the Hopi Amerindians as the source of a deep red dye. There is also a synthetic dye that has been named “amaranth” for its similarity in color to the natural amaranth pigments known as betalains. This synthetic dye is also known as Red No. 2 in North America and E123 in the European Union.
Loves-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus)
The genus contains several well-known ornamental plants, such as A. caudatus (love-lies-bleeding), a native of India and a vigorous, hardy annual with dark purplish flowers crowded in handsome drooping spikes. Another Indian annual, A. hypochondriacus (prince’s feather), has deeply-veined lance-shaped leaves, purple on the under face, and deep crimson flowers densely packed on erect spikes.
Amaranth has been used widely by the Chinese for its healing chemicals, used to treat illnesses such as infections, rashes, and migraines.