Amaranthus, collectively known as amaranth,is a cosmopolitan genus of annual or short-lived perennial plants. Some amaranth species are cultivated as leaf vegetables, pseudocereals, and ornamental plants. Most of the species from Amaranthus are summer annual weeds and are commonly referred to as pigweed. Catkin-like cymes of densely packed flowers grow in summer or autumn. Approximately 60 species are recognized, with inflorescences and foliage ranging from purple and red to green or gold. Members of this genus share many characteristics and uses with members of the closely related genus Celosia.
The word ‘Amaranth’ is derived from the greek term ‘amarantos’ meaning ‘unwithering’. The term was applied to Amaranth for its hearty characteristics that for the people that used it, came to symbolize immortality. The Hindi term for Amaranth, Ramdana, means God’s own grain. This bountiful seed is grown all throughout India from the high slopes of the Himalayas to the many coastlines of the country. Numerous different Amaranth varieties are grown throughout the country, but the Himalaya region is know as the Amaranth ‘centre for diversity’ for the number of varieties that grow in the region. This crop is also a native species to the Andean region of South America, including Argentina, Peru and Bolivia. In the Andes region it remains widely grown today.This crop has been called ‘Incan Wheat’ because it was a staple food for the Incas, but was used long before this time. Today the grain often goes by the name kiwicha. In North America/Europe where this crop is sometimes sold, it occasionally goes by the name ‘love-lies-bleeding’ due to its bright, fluorescent colour ranges.
Amaranth is a hardy crop, high in fibre. Using amaranth in combination with wheat, corn or brown rice results in a complete protein level as high as the value found in fish, red meat, or poultry. The grain is very easy for the body to digest and so is traditionally eaten during fasts, and given to those who are recovering from illness. Amaranth is consumed as both a vegetable and a grain. The leaves of the plant are frequently used in countries throughout Africa, the Caribbean, China and even Greece in various dishes and stir-frys. In China, it is believed that eating Amaranth greens are great for improving eye sight, and in countries throughout Africa it is recommended by doctors for people with low red blood cell count. The Hills People in India believe they get their strength from the daily consumption of this super grain! Commonly, the grain is popped before it is consumed which is often made into gruel called sattu or laddoos. The grain can further be ground into flour and mixed with other types of flours to make everyday staples like chapatti.
While amaranth may be known as a ‘forgotten food grain’ its taste and exceptional health benefits recognized around the world make it a grain that is still prominent in the lives of people in many different places and should not be soon forgotten!
Some of the most unique health benefits of amaranth include its ability to stimulate growth and repair, reduce inflammation, prevent certain chronic diseases, boost bone strength, lower blood pressure, improve the immune system, reduce the appearance of varicose veins, maintain healthy hair, and ease weight loss efforts.
1. Amaranth Is Gluten-Free
Cook amaranth grain as a hot cereal to eat in the morning (recipe below). Find it as flour and use if for baking. Some even pop it like popcorn and bread fish with it.
2. It Has More Protein Than Other Grains
One cup of amaranth grain has 28.1 grams of protein compared to oats at 26.1. It’s healthier to receive protein from plant-based sources rather than animals, because the latter often comes with fat and cholesterol.
3. Amaranth Provides Essential Lysine
Amaranth has far more lysine, an essential amino acid that the body can’t manufacture, than other grains. Lysine helps metabolize fatty acids into energy, absorb calcium, and even keep the hair on your head in tact.
4. Helps With Hair Loss And Greying
Expanding on the above, eating it helps with hair loss, juice the leaves and apply it after shampooing. I’ve never done it but people swear it helps moisturize and flatten wirey grey hair.
5. Lowers Cholesterol And Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease
Amaranth seeds and oil (found in the seed) have fiber which contributes to lower cholesterol and risk of constipation. It’s also rich in phytosterols, also known for lowering cholesterol.
6. It’s High In Calcium
Amaranth helps reduce risk of osteoporosis and other calcium deficiencies because it has twice the calcium as milk.
7. Amaranth Is Full Of Antioxidants And Minerals
It’s the only grain to have vitamin C, but it’s high in vitamin E, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium which are necessary for overall health. The leaves are high in vitamin C, vitamin A and folate.
8. Works As An Appetite Suppressant
Protein reduces insulin levels in the blood stream and releases a hormone that makes you feel less hungry. Since amaranth is roughly 15% protein, the fact that it aids in weight loss or maintaining weight is one of the health benefits.
9. Improves Eyesight
While I can’t find an article to back this up, some cultures believe that amaranth greens are a natural way to improve eyesight. Eat them as salad or brew them in tea.
10. Amaranth Is Easy To Digest
Amaranth is traditionally given to patients recovering from illness or people coming off of fasts. It’s the mix of amino acids that allows for very easy digestion.
Amaranth Cutlet Recipe
75 gms Popped Amaranth/Ramdana
200 gms Potatoe
15 gms Peas
15 gms Carrot
3 tbsp Garam Masala
2 tsp Black Pepper
50 gms Peanuts
Salt to taste
1 Small bunch Coriander Leaves
1 Green Chili
Peel, boil and mash the potato and carrot; boil the peas and mix together
Finely chop coriander leaves and green chili
Add amaranth, coriander, green chili, pepper, garam masala and salt, mix well until dough is ready
Make the dough into small oval shapes, and press between your palms to flatten
Heat cooking oil in frying pan, once hot place the cutlets in the oil and fry on medium heat until they are golden brown
Serve hot with chutney or sauce