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Great Grains: Amaranth - The Next Big Thing?

One of the things I love about writing about food is trying new ingredients. When I run across something at the farmers’ market or in the grocery aisle I haven’t cooked before, it almost always ends up in my cart. When amaranth (pronounced ah-mah-ran-th) found its way into my kitchen last month, I was skeptical but curious about what this tiny grain had to offer.

 

Trying new ingredients usually ends up one of three ways in my kitchen:

1)   I get obsessed with the grain, cook with it like crazy, and find ways to add it to all my favorite recipes. That’s what happened when I discovered barley, and now it’s on our table once a week or more.

2)   I’m pleasantly surprised. I make a few good meals and then move on.

3)   I decide there’s a reason I never tried it before and probably won’t bother with it again. Teff is a shining example of this. I made it once and haven’t eaten it since.

 

Somehow, amaranth managed to end up falling in all three categories. The first day I opened the package of tiny granules, I was a little underwhelmed and on my way towards reaction #3. Amaranth’s not much different in purpose or form than the other whole grains I’ve tried in this series. I wasn’t sure if it really had anything special to offer.

 

Raw amaranth (left) and popped amaranth (right)Raw amaranth (left) and popped amaranth (right)

 

Then I figured out I could pop amaranth just like popcorn, one of my favorite foods ever. My reaction jumped straight to outcome #1 – total obsession – and made five amaranth dishes in the next two days.  My husband can testify that our kitchen was covered with little bits of amaranth for days and that I was 100% convinced amaranth was the next kale or foie gras.

 

A few weeks later and I’ve settled on a comfortable #2. I love that amaranth—when heated to the perfect temperature—tastes just like nutty popcorn. I love that it’s gluten free and stirs well into many dishes. But after my amaranth craze, it’s likely going to stay on the pantry shelf for a while.  

 

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what it is about amaranth that it faded so quickly. It could be that after more than a year of focused cooking with whole grains, I’ve found my favorites and the rest don’t quite compare. It could also be that unlike some of the other grains, amaranth is not native to Minnesota, and eating it falls outside our regular diet. It’s more of a novelty item; a neat thing to try, I’m just not sure it has the staying power in our kitchen. Then again, it could always be the next big thing for someone else.

 

What is amaranth?

Amaranth falls in the “grey area” of whole grains. It’s not a cereal grain like oats, rye, and wheat, but because it has some of the same features (bran, germ, and nutrients) as the other whole grains, we include it as a whole grain anyway. People eat amaranth differently around the globe. In India and Nepal, it’s made into porridge. But it’s played the largest role in South and Central America both culturally and politically. In Aztec culture, amaranth is used in many celebrations and at one time shared the same value as corn. During the 16th century, it was banned by Spanish colonists and nearly disappeared. Now farmers increasingly grow amaranth in South and Central America as a substitute for the more popular quinoa, which is expensive and more difficult to grow. 

 

What’s great about it?

Amaranth has found its way back into American kitchens as a superfood. High in protein (almost 3 times higher than wheat) and in the amino acid lysine, amaranth is also gluten free. Just like other whole grains, there’s a long list of studies that show how diets high in amaranth can lower cholesterol, improve heart health, and act as a good supplement for animal protein.

 

Where can I find it?

Most area grocery and natural foods stores sell dried amaranth. It typically comes in a 1-3 pound package of tiny dried granules, ready to be popped or boiled. Amaranth seeds are also available at many nurseries, as many flower gardeners enjoy the bloom and foliage of the plant.

 

Popped AmaranthPopped Amaranth

 

What do I do with it?

Amaranth cooks quickly in boiling water and can be used 1:1 in almost any recipe calling for quinoa. It can also be ground into a gluten-free flour and substituted 1:1 for whole wheat flour. If you’re trying to decide if amaranth has staying power in your kitchen, here’s some other ideas to get you started:

 

·      Popped Amaranth – Popping amaranth takes some trial and error, however the end taste is almost identical to popcorn. Each amaranth kernel is like a microscopic piece of popcorn, ready to be buttered and salted. To pop amaranth, heat a small pot with a lid until a tiny drop of water immediately evaporates when dropped in the bottom. Add in 1 tablespoon of amaranth and immediately put on the lid. Shake the pot back and forth over the burner for 10-20 seconds or until the popping just starts to slow. The pot has to be the right temperature: too cold and the amaranth will just slowly scorch; too hot and it burns instantly.

·      Alegria – Alegria is a popular street food in Latin countries. It’s made by covering popped amaranth and pumpkin seeds with a boiling sugar and molasses mixture and then allowing that to harden into a sweet, chewy bar.

 

Amaranth TabouliAmaranth Tabouli


·      Amaranth Tabouli – Add 2 cups of cooked and cooled amaranth to roughly chopped tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, and mint. Stir in ½ cup olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for an hour before serving cold on a leaf of lettuce.

·      Amaranth Tortillas – Combine 1 ¼ cups of amaranth flour with ½ cup of water and favorite seasonings into a thick paste. Roll into a golf ball size and the press onto a hot griddle (no oil) to form tortillas. Cook until browned on both sides and little or no moisture remains in the tortilla.

 

Gooey Amaranth BarsGooey Amaranth Bars


·      Gooey Amaranth Bars – Stir 2 cups popped amaranth in with 6 cups of your favorite breakfast cereal and 4 cups of melted marshmallows for a whole grain twist on Rice Crispy treats.

·      Amaranth Bean Soup – Make your favorite black bean or cannellini bean soup recipe. While the beans are cooking stir in ½ cup of uncooked amaranth to add extra creamy texture and flavor while naturally thickening the soup.

 

 

Amy Sippl is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good, and Tasty. She grew up in rural Wisconsin, but now calls St. Paul her home. She writes about her successes and struggles to eat and grow local food on her blog: Minnesota Locavore. She writes the Great Grains series for SGT; her last non-grain post for us was Co-op on a Budget: Your DIY Headquarters.

 

Comments

Good informative article, Amy. I wish there were some recipe for amaranth energy bars that included something less sugary than marshmallows. Maybe peanut butter?

I agree that the bars are more on the "dessert" side than a granola bar.  Here's a few alternative links I found that are sweetened with maple syrup, honey or peanut butter: 

http://southamericanfood.about.com/od/healthyeating/r/Quinoa-Amaranth-Fr...

http://eggyolkdays.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/amaranth-flax-granola-bars/

http://bring-joy.com/2012/10/02/gluten-free-autumn-amaranth-bars/

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[READ MY STORY. ON HOW I GOT MY hepatitis B CURED].

 

Truthfully, i was tested ALS positive last 3 years. I keep on managing the drugs i usually purchase from the health care agency to keep me healthy and strengthen, i tried all i can too make this disease leave me alone, but unfortunately, it keep on eating up my life, this is what i caused myself, So last few 4 days i came in contact with a lively article on the internet on how this Powerful Herbal Healer get her well and healed. So as a patient i knew this will took my life 1 day, and i need to live with other friends and relatives too. So i copied out the Dr ADELEKE the traditional healer’s email id:  DR.ADELEKEAYODELE1960@GMAIL.COM), and I mailed him immediately, in a little while he mail me back that i was welcome to his temple home whereby all what i seek for are granted. I was please at that time. And i continue with him, he took some few details from me and told me that he shall get back to me as soon as he is through with my work. I was very happy as heard that from him. So Yesterday, as i was just coming from my friends house, Dr ADELEKE called me to go for checkup in the hospital and see his marvelous work that it is now hepatitis B negative, i was very glad to hear that from him, so i quickly rush down to the nearest hospital to found out, only to hear from my hospital doctor called Browning Lewis that i am now hepatitis B NEGATIVE. I jump up at him with the test note, he ask me how does it happen and i reside to him all i went through with Dr ADELEKE. I am now glad, so i am a gentle type of person that need to share this testimonies to everyone who seek for healing, because once you get calm and quiet, so the disease get to finish your life off. So i will advice you contact him today for your healing at the above details: Email ID: DR.ADELEKEAYODELE1960@GMAIL.COM… or CALL HIM ON +2349035594773  CONTACT HIM NOW TO SAVE YOUR LIFE: DR.ADELEKEAYODELE1960@GMAIL.COM AS HE IS SO POWERFUL AND HELPFUL TO ALL THAT HAVE THIS SICKNESS…

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TESTIMONY OF HOW I GOT CURED FROM HERPES SIMPLEX VIRUS AND HIV

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LOVE SPELLS TO BRING BACK EX LOVERS [HUSBANDS OR WIFE'S.E.T.C

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This is a miracle that i need to share to the world i went to a hospital for some blood test and discovered that i was suffering from HIV aids (positive) i was so frustrate and tired of life to the extend i almost killed my self thanks to my mother that gives me courage that i will get a cure online,i was browsing online one day and i came across a spell caster called dr zack balo who i saw alot of comment that he has help cure HIV aids then i contacted him and he told me he can cure my aids through spell at first i did not believe and thought he was a scam so as time went on i had to try my luck because my life depend on it so i agreed to every thing he said to my mighty testimony and shock after the spell have been caster i went for another blood test,thanks to the mighty spell caster i was HIV negative i am so happy that i am cure now if you are HIV positive contact dr zack balo on wiseindividualspell@gmail.com or call him on his phone number now and get +2348078927387 your cure.

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