What is amaranth? Whether consciously or not, it’s likely you’ve seen amaranth growing in your neighborhood. This abundant plant in the pigweed family produces a stunning blossom that is hard to mistake for any other flower. There are over 60 types of amaranth found all over the world from South America to Africa to India and Greece. Several, though not all, subspecies of this weed, for it is truly a weed, produce what we know and love as amaranth grain. Ranging from white to almost black, this whole grain is a nutritional powerhouse with an earthy flavor and pleasant porridge-like texture when cooked.
Amaranth has a fascinating history. Cultivated across the world, its name comes from the Greek words for “unfading” and “flower”. The ancient Aztecs relied on amaranth as a food staple and used it in religious rituals, earning it the names “super grain of the Aztecs” and “golden grain of the gods.” In the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors attempted to outlaw amaranth in an effort to convert and control the Aztecs. Lucky for us, their efforts proved unsuccessful due to amaranth’s amazing ability to grow quickly and thrive in less-than-ideal soil, making it nearly impossible to extinguish.
Is it a whole grain? Yes.
Is it gluten free? Yes.
Why is it considered a nutritional powerhouse? Amaranth is a complete protein and boasts a higher protein level than quinoa. It is also high in dietary fiber, magnesium and iron.
How is it used? Amaranth is different from many of its whole grain brethren, in that it doesn’t cook up as individual grains very easily. A pot of amaranth often looks like a pot of porridge. However, if you are looking for a more individualized amaranth it can be popped or toasted before eating. Popped amaranth can be eaten as a cold cereal, sprinkled on salads for a fun topping or used as a coating (such as the mini goat cheese skewers below). Toasted amaranth is fabulous added to baked goods for a nutritious crunch. We like it used as a polenta or risotto for dinner and with sweet toppings for a breakfast porridge.
Our favorite ways to enjoy amaranth: