We have come to call it a gluten free grain, but ancient amaranth (cultivated as a grain for some 8,000 years), is actually the seeds from an herb.
In many places around the globe, the leaves and roots of amaranth are eaten as vegetables. It was also widely used by the Chinese for its healing chemicals, curing illnesses such as infections, rashes, and migraines1. I’m just talking seeds here, as a gluten free baking option.
And since the Hopi are my neighbors, I thought it interesting to note: “The flowers of the 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth were used by the Hopi (a [Native American] tribe in the western United States) as the source of a deep red dye. There is also a synthetic dye that has been named "amaranth" for its similarity in color to the natural amaranth … known as Red No. 2 in North America”2
I digress. I want to tell you about using amaranth (the seed) as a gluten free grain, but did you know that amaranth contains Lysine, an essential amino acid not present in most grains? Lysine helps to quell herpes simplex outbreaks, including cold sores and shingles.
The bad news: Apparently there is strong evidence that some strains of amaranth contain “anti-nutritional and toxic factors” but that “thermal processing in a moist environment” (my translation: cooking) “may be a promising way to reduce the adverse effects of amaranth's anti-nutritional and toxic factors”. 3 Yikes! More evidence that a diet should consist of a broad range of whole foods, rather than relying heavily on a few fall backs!
The good news: Studies have shown that regular consumption of amaranth (the seed – and presuming it's been cooked) reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels!
Here’s a a great resource for more info and a list of ways you can use amaranth in your kitchen:
- Toasted or popped, then added to salads or used as a gluten free “breading”
- Polenta or porridge style
- As a flour
- In soups
I’m going to the test kitchen right now, to try a batch of Amaranth Ginger Muffins! Look – there they are!
How about you? Have you had amaranth? How have you prepared it – breakfast cereal, flour substitute, others? Please add your comments below!