Amaranth: Everything You Need to Know About the Ancient Aztec Grain

A wooden spoon filled with amaranth flour sits atop a pile of amaranth seeds on a counter.

If you want a healthy, gluten-free grain that is easy to cook and that provides numerous health benefits, try amaranth. (Image: Baibaz via Dreamstime)

As people become more health-conscious, the quest for finding healthier grains has begun. While the majority of the population still rely on widely used grains like wheat and rice, the demand for healthier and gluten-free alternatives is definitely growing. If you want a healthy, gluten-free grain that is easy to cook and that provides numerous health benefits, try amaranth. It may be a lesser-known food grain, but the reality is, some civilizations have been using it for several thousand years.

Origin and basics of amaranth

Collectively, amaranth denotes a group of almost 60 species of grains that have been cultivated for around 8,000 years. The ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations as well as the Inca people used them a lot. Amaranth is a pseudocereal and that places it in a different group than cereal grains like oats and wheat. It has a nutty and earthy aroma that makes it enticing.

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Its scientific name is Amaranthus. The plant is native to South and Central America though now it is also harvested widely in other locales. This is a large and bushy plant and can grow up to about 4 feet in height. The stems get erect branches and pointed green leaves. The flowers are white or pink. It is an annual plant. It resembles spinach in looks and the plant comes in varying hues like red, green, and purple.

A row of amaranth growing in a plot of land.
Amaranth is native to South and Central America. (Image: Marco Valdifiori via Dreamstime)

Nutritional profile

Amaranth is rich in protein, micronutrients, and antioxidants and it also serves as a good source of fiber. It is devoid of gluten, too. You get a fair amount of minerals like phosphorus and iron, manganese, and magnesium from it as well. A cup of cooked Amaranth contains 250 calories. The antioxidants in it help your body cope with damaging free radicals.

Its leaves are also as nutrient-enriched as the seeds are! The leaves can be multi-colored. These leaves are low in calories and contain soluble and insoluble fiber. It also has lysine, which is an essential amino acid required for calcium absorption.

Health benefits

You can obtain some major health benefits by including amaranth in your diet. The major health benefits are:

  • Inflammation reduction — While inflammation is the body’s default immune response to protect it from various injuries and infections, chronic inflammation leads to the onset of serious ailments. It may pave the way for autoimmune disorders, cancer, diabetes, etc. Some studies have hinted that eating amaranth may help prevent excessive inflammation.
Amaranth salad with cucumbers and peppers in a clear bowl sitting on a wooden cutting board with a head of garlic and some cilantro.
Including amaranth in your diet may help prevent excessive inflammation. (Image: Prosiaczeq via Dreamstime)
  • Lowers cholesterol levels — High levels of harmful cholesterols can lead to cardiac complications, say the doctors. Some animal studies have shown amaranth consumption may help lower cholesterol.
  • May help with weight loss — Obese people trying to shed excess pounds may benefit by eating amaranth. Amaranth is enriched with protein and fiber. High protein and fiber-rich foods can aid weight loss, several studies have shown. The fiber ensures you stay full for longer and that in turn reduces hunger pangs.
  • Gluten-free — Many people nowadays are looking for gluten-free foods. Those who cannot digest gluten should prefer amaranth over other grains. Those coping with celiac disease should go for it too.
  • Eye health — In the leaves of this plant, there is a fair amount of Vitamin A along with carotenoids. These antioxidants reduce the risks of developing macular degeneration and cataracts. It helps improve vision.

Since ancient times, this herb has been used for various medicinal purposes. It has been used a lot for treating diarrhea and disproportionate menstrual flow. It is also said to be good for treating mouth ulcers.

Cooking and storing

Amaranth is easy to prepare and it can be cooked in so many ways. It is better if you soak it in water prior to cooking. It can be added to smoothies or mixed in soups and broths. It can also be used as a worthy breakfast cereal. Its flour is also useful for making bread and it can be mixed with wheat flour, too.

A bowl containing amaranth seeds sits next to a bowl containing amaranth flour.
Amaranth flour is also useful for making bread. (Image: Baibaz via Dreamstime)

The grain should be stored in airtight containers and kept in a place away from sunlight.

Amaranth is generally deemed safe for consumption by people from all age groups. However, it should not be consumed in raw form. It may contain some toxic components in raw form.

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