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AMARANTH (Amaranthus)

Amaranth seeds are tan or light brown in colour and are about the size of poppy seeds. Not a true cereal grain, amaranth is sometimes called a ‘pseudo-grain’ and has been referred to as a herb or even a vegetable. There are 60 species of Amaranth on the planet and it is a relative of the common pigweed. Some of these species of Amaranth are grown for their spinach-like leaves which are eaten as a salad while other species are grown only for ornamental or decorative purposes. And lastly, still other species produce the tiny seeds that are so nutritious and sold mostly in health food stores.

Amaranth has a long and interesting history in Mexico where it's been grown and harvested for thousands of years by the Mayan and Incan civilizations. The Aztecs believed Amaranth had magical properties that would give them amazing strength. Because of this, it became one of the main foods of the Aztec royalty. Amaranth also held an intricate role in some of their ancient rituals. In one ritual, the seeds were crushed open, then honey and human blood were added followed by forming this reddish paste into the shapes of birds and snakes then baking it.

With the coming of the Spanish into the Americas, this abominable practice was abolished. Every crop of Amaranth that could be found was burned. Punishment for possession of the grain became so harsh that even having one seed was punished by chopping off the hands. Amaranth quickly became a ‘lost’ seed for many generations. Presently, Amaranth is grown in Mexico, Peru and Nepal as well as in the United States.

Amaranth is very high in protein, particularly in the amino acid, lysine, which is low in the cereal grains. Amaranth has the highest lysine content of all the grains with quinoa coming in a close second. It also has a very good amino acid blend. Just 150 grams of the grain is all that’s required to supply an adult with 100% of the daily requirement of protein. Amaranth is one of the highest grains in fibre content. This makes it an effective agent against cancer and heart disease. Amaranth is also the only grain that contains significant amounts of phytosterols which play a major part in the prevention of many kinds of diseases. Amaranth contains one of the widest selections of phytonutrients.

Amaranth contains no gluten so is a very healthy alternative to wheat. It must be cooked before it is eaten because it contains components in it’s raw form that block the absorption of some nutrients in the digestive system. This is not necessary with sprouted amaranth though. It can be simmered for 20 minutes in it’s whole seed form for a morning breakfast cereal or roasted and ground to used for flavouring and a nutritional additive to meals and soups. It can be ground raw and used in place of other flours.

As Amaranth contains fairly high levels of poly-unsaturated fats, it’s best to store them in the refrigerator after opening the container. For long term storage, package them with oxygen absorbers in an air-tight container which should extend their storage life for several years if stored in a cool place. Having a hard outer shell, they should store better than quinoa or buckwheat which have similar nutritional qualities but have a softer, more permeable shel


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