Amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus) is a rich source of protein, containing zero gluten, making it an ideal solution for those who suffer from celiac disease.
Where amaranth comes from
We are talking about a plant with a long history. It’s a staple of Andean people. Amaranth is in fact a variety native to Central America, long forgotten, but slowly renowned and reintroduced in the recent couple of decades as a food in Europe and the US.
The rediscovery of the plant has a certain date: 1975, with the publication of a botany book by the American Academy of Sciences in which the nutritional characteristics of different forgotten plants were explained, including amaranth, which changed the perception for the plant radically. It was spread in pre-Columbian civilizations, but the conquistadores didn’t allow for the seed to travel to Europe, thus profiting from local people.
Today it’s greatly appreciated, especially because of its absence of gluten for people suffering of celiac disease, but also those who stick to vegetarian or vegan choice of life, thanks to its rich vegetable protein resource.
The plant adapts to different climates, that’s why its present in all continents and it’s also very resistant to pathogens. Looking like a small plant with dark red inflorescence (also used for decoration), it has edible seeds that are eaten after cooking a while, usually 45 to 50 minutes. It’s recommended not to combine the seeds with other protein foods, rather you should mix it with vegetables.
Amaranth: is it a cereal or not?
Contrary to popular belief, this ingredient of natural cuisine is not a cereal, but it’s prepared as a cereal. Out of the 60 known species, only three are considered suitable for seed production (Amaranthus caudatus, Amaranthus cruentus and Amaranthus hypochondriacus).
For this reason, amaranth is often considered a pseudocereal because it’s not a member of the grass family like true cereals (wheat, rice, corn, etc.). However, its seeds are used similarly to cereals, and it shares some nutritional and culinary characteristics with them. So, while not a true cereal, it’s often grouped with them due to its utility and nutritional content.
Amaranth health properties
Amaranth consists mainly of fiber, also a lot of minerals, calcium, iron, phosphorus and magnesium, also vitamins C, A and B. The protein content is high, as previously mentioned, making it suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets, and also for the elderly and children who require an easily digestible food. The leaves are edible and are rich in iron. It has a high content of lysine, an amino acid which most cereals lack.
Thanks to the fibers that are contained, it can aid the proper functioning of the intestines, especially the colon and helps strengthen the immune system due to the significant presence of iron.
Some research suggests that amaranth may help regulate blood sugar levels due to its low glycemic index and high fiber content.
It is also a good source of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, which are essential for maintaining strong and healthy bones.
Last, this nutrient-rich grain is naturally gluten-free, making it a safe and nutritious grain alternative for individuals with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease.
Amaranth nutritional properties
Amaranth is highly nutritious. Here’s an approximate nutritional content for 100 grams of cooked amaranth:
- Calories: 102
- Protein: 3.8 grams
- Carbohydrates: 19.7 grams
- Dietary Fiber: 2 grams
- Fat: 1.6 grams
- Calcium: 159 milligrams
- Iron: 2.1 milligrams
- Magnesium: 65 milligrams
- Phosphorus: 140 milligrams
- Potassium: 135 milligrams
- Vitamin C: 1.9 milligrams
- Folate: 82 micrograms
It also contains small amounts of Vitamins A and K.
Always remember that these values can vary slightly depending on the specific variety of these seeds and how thet are prepared.
There are basically no contradictions linked to consumption of amaranth. However, given the presence of moderate amounts of oxalic acid, amaranth can complicate the assimilation of zinc in the body, as well as calcium and other minerals. Therefore it’s relatively not recommended for those suffering from kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
Also given its high protein content, it should not be consumed along with other foods rich in it, such as meat, eggs, milk and derivatives.
Amaranth preparations and recipes
In Central American countries, where this food has a long tradition it is also used in desserts, snacks, or just like popcorn kernels it could be blown and popped. To eat it has to be boiled for a moderately long time, thus assuming a gelatinous consistency (like tapioca), so it’s best to cook along with cereals or vegetables. After washing, the proportions are 2 parts water to 1 part amaranth and 1 teaspoon of salt, similar to white rice.
For optimal consistency it’s best not to mix it, but rather let it chill for 10 minutes, to give the beans chance to swell and absorb moisture.
Here are a couple of recipes using this ingredient that showcase its versatility in both sweet and savory dishes:
- 1/2 cup amaranth grains
- 2 cups milk (or a dairy-free alternative)
- 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
- Fresh berries and chopped nuts for topping
- Rinse the amaranth grains in a fine-mesh strainer.
- In a saucepan, combine the amaranth and milk.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- When the mixture thickens and the amaranth is cooked, sweeten with honey or maple syrup.
- Serve with fresh berries and chopped nuts on top.
Amaranth and Vegetable Stir-Fry
- 1/2 cup amaranth grains
- Mixed vegetables (bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, etc.)
- Tofu or chicken (optional)
- Soy sauce or tamari
- Garlic and ginger, minced
- Sesame oil
- Cook amaranth according to package instructions.
- In a large pan, heat sesame oil and sauté garlic and ginger.
- Add your choice of mixed vegetables and protein (tofu or chicken), and stir-fry until cooked.
- Add the cooked seeds to the stir-fry and mix well.
- Season with soy sauce or tamari and serve.
Amaranth Energy Bars
- 1 cup popped amaranth
- 1/2 cup nuts and dried fruits (e.g., almonds, dates, raisins)
- 1/4 cup honey or nut butter
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Combine popped amaranth, nuts, and dried fruits in a bowl.
- In a separate saucepan, warm honey or nut butter and add vanilla extract.
- Pour the honey/nut butter mixture over the amaranth and stir to combine.
- Press the mixture into a baking dish and let it cool.
- Once cooled, cut into bars for a healthy snack.
Now go get yourself some quality gluten-free protein from amaranth!
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