Amaranth is an extremely nutritious and delicious replacement for most commonly used grains. It can be eaten in the place of milk-based products because of its calcium levels, making it a very flexible and diverse food ingredient. Best of all it is easy to find and easy to prepare.
Amaranth is also known as amaranthus. Its chequered history has been due in part to its association with ancient traditions and ceremonies. In fact, the earliest Aztecs were so enamoured by its so-called supernatural properties that eating it as a staple was not enough. Prior to the Spanish invasions, it was given to woman in a sweet mixture that was combined with human blood for religious sacrifices, namely human. Unfortunately, this association led Spanish conquistadors to view amaranth as evil. They managed to ban its use for many centuries, but unbeknown to them, isolated native people in the remotest regions of Mexico and the Andes Mountains continued to grow and use it. As a result, amaranth survived to be rediscovered in modern times as a seed, green vegetable and flour.
Amaranth seeds, flowers and leaves are rich in protein, lysine, methionine, vitamin C, vitamin A, phosphorus, potassium, iron (more than spinach), calcium (2 x that of milk), linoleic acid, vitamin E and fiber (3 x wheat equivalent). However, it has to be consumed with another high protein food to ensure a complete protein is formed, especially for vegetarians.
It is a good addition to any diet, not just to replace wheat and other common grains for allergy and Celiac disease sufferers. The leaves are a good alternative to spinach, far better digested and helps sooth the digestive tracts and treat fevers and toothaches. The seeds can be used like popcorn, in confections, for beer making, for food coloring, as a vegetable (leaves only), ground to make bread in combination with another bread flour, for rum making, for pasta making, as a hot cereal, as a nutty flavoured/toasted snack and for thickening stews and soups.
Amaranth seeds should be stored in glass jars in the fridge for up to six months to prevent the loss of natural oils. Using plastic jars is not recommended because the oils can be absorbed by the container. Leaves and flowers can be dried and stored in air tight containers in cupboards for up to 8 months. Fresh versions can be kept between pieces of kitchen paper in the fridge for 3 days or frozen indefinitely.
Amaranth flowers, flour and seeds can be found in most grocery, health and online stores. The leaves are more commonly found in the frozen sections of East Indian, Oriental and online food stores.