I have to admit that I was not aware of a number of foods before I became a vegetarian. The amaranth was literally an unknown term for me. However, the fact that NASA includes it in the nutrition plan of its astronauts made me interested to find out more about it. Its outstanding nutritional value and its high content in good quality plant based proteins were the reasons that it made its way into my diet.
Amaranth is an ancient seed dating 8000 years back, used as a basic food source by the Aztecs and the Incas. The plant that gives us the seed belongs to the same family as beetroots, spinach, white beets, and produces thousands of tiny seeds (up to 60.000), which synthesise the pseudo-grain. Today, it is cultivated in Africa, India, China, Russia and the whole of South America.
Its name comes from the Greek language, and means “the plant that never withers”, the immortal, the imperishable. It has gained this title because its seeds are truly resilient.
Initially, the Aztecs and Incas would cook the seeds as porridge, they would make them into flour and use the flour to make bread, they used it to make a type of beer, and ate the leaves that taste similar to spinach, and also ate the flowers of the plant.
Today it is considered a superfood, although few know about it, and even fewer consume it! It has an impressive nutritional profile and numerous benefits for the human health!
It does not contain gluten, which renders it an ideal choice for people with a gluten intolerance. It is also the only seed that is proven to contain vitamin C. A cup of amaranth seeds contains 251 calories and only 4 grams of fat, none of which are saturated. It offers 29% of the recommended daily dose of iron, 12% of the RDA of calcium, 40% of the RDA of magnesium, and 36% of the RDA of phosphorous. It also offers 105% of the suggested daily intake of manganese, which functions as an antioxidant, it contributes to the energy metabolism, bones and joints’ health and the healing of wounds. Its protein content is also important and it is one of the highest quality and most nutritious plant based proteins.
There are many ways to enjoy this tiny seed. First you need to rinse it, and then soak it in water for a minimum of 8 hours, so it gets softer. You can use it in your sweet morning porridge, boiling it in a low heat, using one part amaranth seeds and 2,5 parts water, or almond or coconut milk, for 20-25 minutes, stirring continuously. It goes well with nuts and honey or agave syrup. Preferably, it is used with other grains or cereals, for a smoother texture, so you can add a tablespoon into your oats or your choice of muesli. It can also be added in soups, pilaff or risotto, along with legumes or vegetables. It creates a type of jelly, therefore two spoonfuls are enough to thicken up your soup. You can cook it as pop corn, (yes, that’s right)!Simply place dry amaranth seeds into a pan with a couple of spoonfuls olive oil, cover with the lid and simmer on a medium heat. Use it in salads such as tabouleh, after you boil it, make sure it is drained and thoroughly dried. Its flour is used in recipes that do not require the mixture to “rise” or puff out.