Amaranth is pseudo-cereal that belongs to the Amaranth family. It originates from Peru. Amaranth was a staple food for Aztecs 6.000 to 8.000 years ago, who also used it in various religious ceremonies. There are around 60 species of amaranth, but only three are commercially important. Amaranth is cultivated in Africa, India, China, Russia and parts of South and North America today. This plant can survive in various climates, but it thrives the best in areas with temperate climate, on the well-drained, loose soil on the higher altitude. People cultivate amaranth as a source of food (seed) and in ornamental purposes. Some species of amaranth, such as pigweed, are classified as weed.
Most amaranth species are fast-growing plants that range in height from a few inches to 8 feet tall, depending on species.
Amaranth has erect, bushy stem that can reach few inches to 10 feet in height, depending on the species.
Taller amaranths have shrub-like growth habits.
Amaranth produces broad leaves that can be light or dark green, reddish, covered with purple veins or variegated.
All amaranth foliage, which ranges from green to yellow, orange and red, like Hopi red dye amaranth, is edible.
Amaranth produces purple, red or golden flowers shaped like miniature grain-like buds.
Amaranths are drought tolerant, although plants growing in full sun during prolonged dry spells may need supplemental irrigation.
Amaranth blooms during the summer and autumn. It belongs to a group of self-pollinating plants.
Although it isn’t a true cereal grain like members of the Poaceae family, amaranth seeds are harvested and used like grains for cereals and cooking.
Clusters of densely packed flowers of amaranth transform into large, heavy seed heads. Single plant can produce 60.000 seeds per year. Despite many morphological and nutritional similarities with other cereals, amaranth is not a true grain (that’s why it is known as “pseudo-cereal”).
A single amaranth plant can produce up to 60,000 seeds from its richly-hued flowers, and an acre of grain amaranth yields about a half-ton of highly nutritious “grain.”
Amaranth propagates via seed.
The seeds of grain amaranth are only 1 millimeter in diameter, making them easy to grind into flour.
Name “amaranth” is derived from a Greek word “amarantos” which means “everlasting” or “one that does not wither”. Name refers to the flower buds of amaranth that retain vivid coloration even after drying.
Most ornamental amaranths have tassel-like flowers that range from a few inches to more than a foot long.
Amaranth is an excellent source of proteins, dietary fibers, vitamin E, iron, calcium, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids.
Elephant’s head amaranth has fat, deep red blooms that look like raised elephants’ trunks.
Amaranth has better nutritional value than wheat and rice and unlike them, it is also an excellent source of L-lysine, essential amino acid that facilitates absorption of calcium and synthesis of collagen, elastin, hormones and antibodies in the human body.
Ornamental amaranths may be used in borders, along sunny walls, massed for impact or grown as specimen or container plants.
Amaranth can be ground in flour and used for the preparation of bread or as thickener for soups, sauces and stews.
Pigweed species also belong to the amaranthus family.
Seeds can be prepared and consumed like rice, as ingredient of granola bars or popped like popcorns.
The plant yields flowers at summer or autumn (August and October) which is pink or white in color.
Leaves of amaranth are also edible and very popular in Asia. They can be consumed stir-fried or as an ingredient of soups.
The younger greens and small varieties are consumed as salad and older greens are used as a substitute for spinach.
Popped seeds of amaranth mixed with honey or sugar (usually shaped like a skull) are traditionally consumed during Mexican “Day of the Dead” festival.
Amaranth is added as an ingredient in pasta, bread, instant drinks, baby’s food, etc.
Seeds of amaranth are gluten-free and they can be safely consumed by people diagnosed with celiac disease.
Popped Amaranth is added to bread, tofu or meat.
Amaranth lowers blood cholesterol level and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disorders, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Amaranth flour could be mixed with wheat flour to make bread or other foods.
Amaranth completes its life cycle after one or few years, depending on the species.
The seed could be cooked or roasted like germ vegetables.