Amaranth, once a revered crop of the ancient Aztecs, is now a staple in the realm of natural foods in North America and beyond. This quick guide to amaranth grain and flour features an overview of their characteristics and uses.
A hardy crop that’s resistant to drought and cold, amaranth is native to Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, and Bolivia. Often referred to as grain amaranth to distinguish it from vegetable amaranth (a closely related plant) it’s a tiny round seed, about half the size of a millet seed. Since amaranth is botanically a seed, it’s technically what’s called a pseudo-grain.
A good-for-you food
The nutritional profile of amaranth is so impressive that when it burst on the scene a few decades ago, it was cited as one of the world’s most promising foods by the National Academy of Sciences.
Amaranth contains 9 grams of protein per cooked cup and is unusually high in lysine and methionine, amino acids that are often in short supply in grains. It’s considered a complete protein and is gluten-free.
In addition, it’s high in fiber and rich in calcium and iron, and even contains vitamin C, a vitamin not usually found in significant amounts in grains. Here are more details about its nutritional profile.
Resources for learning more about amaranth
When amaranth came onto my radar some years ago, there was exactly one company distributing it in North America; now there are quite a few offering organic amaranth. Look for it at your local natural foods stores and online sources. Explore amaranth brands and compare prices on Amazon.* And for more information:
Amaranth cereals and popped amaranth
Amaranth has been incorporated into several varieties and brands of crunchy cold cereals which you can find in natural foods stores and online sources.
Amaranth can also be made into tiny popped grains, like miniature popcorn. Popped amaranth, made by heating the seeds until they explode (akin to, but much tinier than popcorn), is a specialty item available mainly through online sources. It can be added to cold cereals and makes a nice topping for green salads and casseroles.
Though it’s a bit tricky, you can make your own. Here’s a tutorial on popped amaranth.
How to cook amaranth grain
Use a ratio of 2 1/2 to 3 parts water to 1 part grain, depending on the texture you want. The smaller amount of water yields a chewier result. Using more water will yield a consistency like a mushy cooked cereal.
Bring the water to a boil and stir in the grain. Return to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the water is absorbed, about 20 to 25 minutes.
How to use amaranth grain
The flavor of cooked amaranth is strong, often described as nutty and sweet, but it’s more complex than that. Even its aroma is distinct and may not be to everyone’s liking.
Amaranth cooks to a rather sticky and glutinous texture, which limits its versatility. It can’t always easily be substituted for other grains in recipes and for some palates may be a bit too overpowering to be used as a bed of grain for other dishes. Amaranth’s unusual texture calls for a different approach.
As a hot cereal: Cook as instructed above, under How to Cook Amaranth to make a simple porridge. Add a little plant-based milk if desired and embellish as you would any other hot cereal — with dried or fresh fruit, liquid sweetener, nuts, and/or seeds.
Stuff in into squashes: The flavor of amaranth is compatible with that of various squashes. Embellish cooked amaranth with dried fruit, nuts, cinnamon, and grated fresh ginger to stuff pre-baked winter squashes.
Boost sautéed vegetables: Sauté a sliced medium yellow summer squash or zucchini, about 2 cups of broccoli florets, and 2 to 3 sliced scallions in olive oil until just tender-crisp. Stir in a cup or so of cooked amaranth. Serve as a side dish, garnished with chopped fresh parsley or cilantro. This is just an example; use a little cooked amaranth to bolster any kind of vegetable sauté.
Make a breakfast pie: Cook amaranth in the evening, then spread it about 1 1/2 inches thick in a lightly oiled pie pan, and refrigerate overnight. In the morning cut into wedges. Fry on a nonstick skillet with a bit of vegan butter until the wedges are golden brown on both sides; serve with maple syrup for breakfast.
Toasted raw grain as a garnish or topping: Toast a small amount of the raw grain in a dry skillet and use as a topping for salads, casseroles, or noodles.
Add texture to baked goods: Add a small amount of cooked amaranth to muffin and quick-bread batters for a moist, chewy texture. About 1/2 cup per average recipe is right.
Amaranth jam: High in a starch called amylopectin, amaranth gels as it cools. And so, cooked with fruit juice in place of water, with the optional addition of fresh fruit, amaranth yields an unusual, jam-like spread when cooled. Use it on crackers, muffins, or griddle cakes. Here’s one such recipe using both amaranth and millet.
Vegan recipes using amaranth
Where amaranth is found, amaranth flour is usually also available. In some ways, it’s a more versatile product than the whole grain.
Predictably, amaranth flour is milled from grain amaranth. Since amaranth flour is higher in fat than most flours, it should be refrigerated at all times.
Amaranth flour provides an easier and, to some tastes, a more palatable way of incorporating this highly beneficial food into the diet than the grain itself. While the cooked grain tends to be rather sticky and heavy, the flour has a lighter touch in baked goods.
It adds a nutty character and rich aroma to whatever baked goods it is used in. It’s distinctly though pleasantly flavored.
Ways to use amaranth flour
- In yeasted breads, substitute up to 25 percent of the wheat flour with amaranth flour; in quick breads, muffins, flatbreads, pancakes, and pastries, substitute up to half a wheat flour (like whole-wheat pastry or spelt) with amaranth flour. In wheat-free recipes, amaranth works well with mild flours such as barley or oat.
- A mixture of equal parts amaranth flour and cornmeal makes a tasty substitute for bread crumbs for dredging foods to be fried or roasted.
Amaranth flour is used in some traditional Indian flatbreads, including rajira roti and rajgira paratha. See a recipe below.
Vegan recipes using Amaranth flour
- Rajgira Paratha (flatbread)
- Peanut Butter Amaranth Cookies
- Amaranth Green Onion Fritters
- Herb and Garlic Amaranth Crackers
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