The Amaranth seed is a gluten-free super food, high in quality protein, calcium, iron and other minerals. It is not a ‘true’ grain, but like Quinoa, is referred to as a grain because of its taste and the way it is cooked as a grain. Thanks to the lively, peppery taste of amaranth and the higher level of protein it contains compared to most other grains, amaranth is today rising in popularity.
The word amaranth comes from the Greek word amaranton, meaning ‘unwilting’ and symbolises immortality.
Amaranth seeds contain lysine, an essential amino acid which is limited in other grains or plant sources. Most fruits and vegetables do not contain a complete set of amino acids, so different sources of protein must be used. Amaranth is also limited in some essential amino acids, such as leucine and threonine. Amaranth seeds are a promising complement to common grains such as wheat germ, oats, corn because these common grains are abundant sources of essential amino acids found to be limited in amaranth.
The seeds are a promising source of protein to those who are gluten sensitive. Unlike the protein found in grains such as wheat and rye, its protein does not contain gluten. According to a 2007 report, amaranth compares well in nutrient content with gluten-free vegetarian options such as buckwheat, corn, millet, wild rice, oats and quinoa.
Several studies have shown that like oats, amaranth seed or oil may be of benefit for those with hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Regular consumption reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while improving antioxidant status and some immune parameters. While the active ingredient in oats appears to be water-soluble fibre, amaranth appears to lower cholesterol via its content of plant sterols and squalene.
Reasons to Use Amaranth in Gluten-Free Recipes
- Amaranth contains more protein than any other gluten-free grain and more protein than wheat. One cup of raw amaranth contains 28.1 grams of protein. Oats are a close second with 26.3 grams. In comparison, 1 cup of raw white rice contains 13.1 grams of protein.
- The high lysine content in amaranth sets it apart from other grains. Food scientists consider the protein content of amaranth of high biological value, similar in fact, to the proteins found in milk. This means that amaranth contains an excellent combination of essential amino acids and is well absorbed in the intestinal tract.
- Another advantage of the protein content of amaranth is that the primary proteins in amaranth are albumins and globulins. In comparison, the major proteins in wheat are called prolamins, which are considered less soluble and less digestible than are albumins and globulin proteins.
- Amaranth is second only to teff in calcium content. 1 cup of raw teff contains 347 milligrams of calcium, amaranth 298 milligrams. In comparison, 1 cup of white rice contains 52 milligrams.
- Amaranth contains more magnesium than other gluten-free grains. 1 cup of raw amaranth contains 519 milligrams of magnesium, followed by buckwheat with 393 milligrams and sorghum with 365 milligrams. In comparison, an equal amount of white rice contains 46 milligrams of magnesium.
- Amaranth contains more iron than other gluten-free grains. 1 cup of raw amaranth contains 15 milligrams of iron. White rice contains 1.5 milligrams of iron.
- The seeds contain more fibre than other gluten-free grains. 1 cup of raw amaranth contains 18 grams of fibre. Buckwheat and millet contain 17 grams. In comparison, white rice contains 2.4 grams of fibre.
- Amaranth is slightly lower in carbohydrate content compared to other gluten-free grains. 1 cup of raw amaranth contains 129 grams of carbohydrates, white rice 148 grams, brown rice and sorghum 143 grams and teff 141 grams of carbohydrates. Oats contain 103 grams of carbohydrates, making them the lowest carbohydrate gluten-free grain.
- Amaranth is a good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids (as are most whole grains) and it contains vitamin E in similar amounts to olive oil.
- When Amaranth is added in amounts up to 25% of total flour used in gluten-free recipes, you improve the nutritional value, the taste and texture of gluten free baked goods. Additionally, amaranth is an exceptional thickener for sauces, soups and stews. Amaranth, by nature, absorbs water very easily. That’s what gives it great emulsifying properties. If amaranth is used solely in gluten-free baking recipes, baked goods become too dense. Breads will not rise properly and pancakes and cookies become too heavy. The challenge and rewards of gluten-free cooking come from combining a variety of gluten free flours, starches and gums that work in unison to mimic the properties of gluten.
- It has a low glycaemic index.
By adding amaranth to gluten-free flour blends, sauces, soups and stews you can significantly improve the nutritional quality of your gluten-free diet.
Cooking with amaranth
In many South American countries you can find Amaranth sold on the streets, most often having been popped like corn. In India, Mexico, Nepal, and Peru, it’s a traditional ingredient for breakfast porridge. In Mexico, a favorite treat is dulce de alegria (‘alegria’ is the Spanish word for joy), a sweet candy-like confection made from popped amaranth mixed with sugar or honey. If you’ve ever been a part of a true Mexican Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead celebration, perhaps you’ve seen, or even eaten, an amaranth seed skull. Creepy, but tasty! And of course, amaranth can be eaten straight up. Its flavour runs from light and nutty to lively and peppery, making it a popular ingredient in cereals, breads, muffins, crackers and pancakes.
Cooking amaranth is very easy. Measure grains and water, boil water, add grains, gently boil with the occasional stir for 15-20 minutes, then drain, rinse, and enjoy! Cooked amaranth behaves a little differently than other whole grains. It never loses its crunch completely, but rather softens on the inside while maintaining enough outer integrity so that the grains seem to pop between your teeth. In fact, the sensation of chewing a spoonful of cooked amaranth grains has been compared to eating a spoonful of caviar (without the salty fishiness, of course). Also the cooked grains can be spread on a plate or other flat surface to dry a bit, then sprinkled on salads, added to cookie batters, or stirred into soups.
Amaranth can be cooked in the same way as rice, or in combination with rice. In fact, there’s only one real rule to follow when cooking up a batch of plain amaranth – don’t skimp on the water! Use at least 6 cups of water for every one cup of amaranth.
The main culinary uses of amaranth
- Amaranth flour: 100% amaranth flour may be used in any recipe that doesn’t require gluten to rise, like pancakes, biscuits, flat breads and pastas. Non-glutinous flours like amaranth will not rise in yeast breads, so amaranth flour can only be substituted for about 30% of the glutinous flour you choose (ie. wheat, rye).
- Puffed amaranth seed: Amaranth is more commonly found as a puffed seed within health shops and some supermarkets in Australia. It adds a nutritious crunch to breakfast cereals, salads and baked goods.
- Whole raw amaranth seed: can be boiled for 20 minutes to create a gluten free version of porridge.
- Amaranth flakes: can be mixed with other cereal grains or added to baked goods, cereal bars and desserts.
- Sprouted amaranth: goes well in salads or cereals.
- Gluten free specialty foods: amaranth is increasingly being used in Australia to manufacture gluten free foods like breakfast cereals and pasta, as sold in health food stores and major supermarkets.
Ways you can incorporate amaranth into your diet
- Amaranth in bread
Why not start incorporating some amaranth into your diet. One of the easiest ways is to bake with it. Try baking bread using some amaranth. Go ahead and substitute a portion of regular flour or whole wheat flour with amaranth flour. By substituting no more than 30% of the flour with amaranth you can still follow most recipes, with the exception being the amount of water. You may need more water when using amaranth flour because it absorbs more liquid than regular flour.
- Serve amaranth instead of rice
- Use amaranth instead of couscous, risotto or orzo in pasta dishes
- Make amaranth instead of oatmeal
- Add amaranth to soups or chili
- Make amaranth pudding
- Use amaranth to make cookies
- Make gluten free baked goods
- Add coarse, ground amaranth to smoothies