Amaranth is a gluten-free seed that we usually treat as a grain. It has been used throughout the ages in many cultures and is increasing in popularity, especially as the need for gluten-free foods is increasing. If you’re not sure if amaranth is right for you, check the information below. Hopefully your questions will be answered!
Amaranth 101 – The Basics
Amaranth is among 60 different species of plants belonging to the amaranthus family. These plants are very tall with broad green leaves and brightly colored purple, red, or gold flowers. Three species are commonly grown for their edible seeds. Amaranth is a “pseudo cereal” meaning it’s not technically a cereal grain like wheat or oats, since it is in a different botanical family. However, it does have a similar nutritional profile, and the flowers of the amaranth plant have tiny grain-like starchy edible buds or seeds, which is why it is often treated as a grain.
Amaranth has been cultivated for 6,000 to 8,000 years and was a dietary mainstay for the ancient Inca, Mya, and Aztec civilizations. It has a long history in Mexico and is now grown around the world. Its flavor is described as earthy, nutty flavor, and peppery and it blends well in many dishes including cereals, breads, muffins, and pancakes. When ground into a flour, amaranth is usually blended with a grain to lighten its texture (the flour is very dense when used alone).
Amaranth is gluten-free and rich in protein, fiber, antioxidants and nutrients, particularly manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, selenium, and iron. One cup of cooked amaranth has 250 calories with about 9 grams of protein, more protein then is typically found in other grains. Also, amaranth is considered to be a complete protein because it contains the amino acid lysine, which is usually in short supply in grains.
Research has shown that people with coronary heart disease and hypertension, who were given amaranth had a significant drop in their total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.
How to Select Amaranth
Amaranth is sold dried and prepackaged like rice. If purchasing amaranth from a bulk bin, the seeds should have a faintly sweet aroma or no aroma at all. If it smells musty or oily, it is old and should not be purchased.
How to Store Amaranth
When stored dry in an air-tight container, whole grain amaranth will keep for about 4 months on a cool, dry pantry shelf, and about 8 months when frozen.
Amaranth flour should be stored in a dry, air-tight container. When kept on a cool, dry pantry shelf, it will last about 2 months. In the freezer, it will keep for about 4 months.
How to Prepare Amaranth
After reviewing a lot of resources, it’s evident that some people rinse and sometimes soak amaranth before cooking it. However, rinsing and/or soaking amaranth before cooking is not mandatory. Furthermore, some resources state to bring water to a boil first, then add the seeds. Conversely, other resources state to add the seeds to the water first, then bring it to a boil. So, apparently there are a number of ways to prepare amaranth, and there is no hard and fast rule on how to cook it. However, the texture of the seeds after being cooked may differ between the various methods. Usually the inner portion of the seed will become soft with cooking, while the outer shell will remain crunchy.
Cooking/Serving Methods and Ideas
Amaranth can be popped for a crunchy snack, simmered, sprouted or steamed. The results can be quite different depending on how it is cooked, ranging from smooth and creamy to crunchy like popcorn.
Depending upon the desired outcome, the amount of water called for in a recipe will vary. To achieve an outcome where the cooked seed is more like quinoa or rice, use a LOT of water. To achieve a thick, gelatinous porridge, use less water, or as called for in the recipe.
The instructions on the container of amaranth that I purchased are as follows: In a medium sized pot, combine 1 cup of amaranth with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Let the amaranth rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. All the moisture should be absorbed. This makes about 2 cups of cooked amaranth. Note: This results in a cooked seed with a bit of a crunch on the outside.
Amaranth can be cooked in a similar way as pasta. Bring a lot of water to boil (ie 6 cups water to 1 cup amaranth), then add the amaranth to it. Cook and stir for 15 to 20 minutes. Do not overcook amaranth or it will become gummy. Rinse, drain and enjoy. A lot of water is suggested because the cooking water will thicken from starch released during the cooking process. Cooked amaranth softens in the inside yet maintains some crunch on the outside.
Amaranth can be used as a thickener for sauces, soups and stews, or enjoyed as a creamy breakfast porridge. Amaranth can be used as a side dish in place of rice, couscous, risotto, or orzo pasta.
Here are some suggested ways to use amaranth, provided by https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-amaranth-64211
As a breakfast cereal. Simmered just right, amaranth has a sweetness and porridge-like consistency that makes it a delicious cereal. Use a ratio of 1-1/2 cups liquid to 1/2 cup amaranth. (Yield: 1-1/2 cups cooked.) Place amaranth and water or apple juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Keep a close eye on it towards the end and then serve it right away, as it will turn gummy and congeal if overcooked or left to sit. Add fruit, nuts, cinnamon, and/or sweetener.
Popped. Toast a tablespoon of amaranth seeds at a time in a hot, dry skillet. Continually shake or stir until the seeds pop. Eat them as a snack or use them to top soups, salads, and vegetable dishes. Popped amaranth can be used to bread tofu or meat.
Combined with other grains. When cooked with another grain, such as brown rice, amaranth doesn’t overwhelm with its sticky consistency but adds a nutty sweetness. Use a ratio of 1/4 cup amaranth to 3/4 cup other grain and cook as usual.
Added to soups and stews. Take advantage of amaranth’s gelatinous quality and use it to thicken soup. A couple of tablespoons added while the soup is cooking is usually sufficient.
Herbs/Spices That Go Well With Amaranth
Cardamom, chili, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, parsley, soy sauce, tamari
Other Foods That Go Well With Amaranth
Fruits and Sweets: Apples and apple juice, blueberries, chocolate, dried fruits, honey, lemon, maple syrup, orange, persimmons, raisins
Proteins, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beans (ie black, cannellini, pinto), chickpeas, pistachios, walnuts
Grains: Buckwheat, bulgur, corn, millet, quinoa, rice, wild rice
Vegetables: Bell peppers, cabbage, corn, greens, onions, scallions, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes
Dairy: Milk, yogurt
Other: Oil (ie olive)
Suggested Flavor Combinations
Amaranth + almonds + bulgur + herbs
Amaranth + apples + walnuts
Amaranth + black beans + sweet potatoes
Amaranth + cinnamon + maple syrup
Amaranth + corn + pinto beans + scallions
Amaranth + lemon + olive oil
Amaranth + quinoa + wild rice
Amaranth + raisins + milk
Amaranth goes particularly well in:
Baked goods (ie breads, cookies), casseroles, cereals, dishes mixed with other grains, Mexican cuisine, porridges, puddings, soups, South American cuisines, stews, veggie burgers
Amaranth Polenta with Wild Mushrooms https://wholegrainscouncil.org/recipes/amaranth-polenta-wild-mushrooms
Oat and Amaranth-Crusted Ham and Cheese Quiche https://wholegrainscouncil.org/recipes/oat-and-amaranth-crusted-ham-and-cheese-quiche
Popped Amaranth Crunch https://wholegrainscouncil.org/recipes/popped-amaranth-crunch
Creamy Cannellini Bean and Amaranth Soup https://wholegrainscouncil.org/recipes/creamy-cannellini-bean-and-amaranth-soup
Amaranth Recipes https://www.foodandwine.com/grains/amaranth/amaranth-recipes#3
Amaranth Porridge with Caramelized Bananas and Pecans https://naturallyella.com/banana-pecan-amaranth-porridge/
Coriander Cauliflower Amaranth Salad https://naturallyella.com/amaranth-salad/
Amaranth Pudding with Coconut and Raisins https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/amaranth-pudding-coconut-and-raisins
Chocolate Amaranth Pudding https://cook.nourishevolution.com/2011/04/chocolate-amaranth-pudding/
Savory Amaranth Fritters https://www.bobsredmill.com/recipes/how-to-make/savory-amaranth-fritters/
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.