The word amaranth comes from the Greek Word amarántos which means unfading or eternal. Amaranth seeds traditionally come from Mexico, Guatemala, and South America. The amaranth plant is more than 5000 years old and is considered to be basic food for the Incas, Aztecs, and other pre-Colombian ancient civilizations of the Americas.
Amaranth has been called “the food of the future” because it is resistant to droughts, high temperatures and pests. It has even been cultivated in studies done in outer space. It is highly resistant to extreme environment, grows almost anywhere there is sunlight and humidity, and some types of the plant can even be grown in salt water.
Studies have shown that amaranth is a highly nutritious plant due to its high protein content (it is one of the most important sources of proteins). According to the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN) and the WHO (World Health Organization), on a protein scale of 100, amaranth scores 75, compared to cow’s milk that has 72, soybeans – 68, wheat – 60 and corn – 44. This is due to amaranth seeds having a balanced combination of all the essential amino acids. For example, among its main components is lysine which helps to absorb calcium and to build muscle proteins; and tryptophan, an amino acid that helps to control appetite, acts in the formation of proteins, and controls insulin levels. These two amino acids are essential for the growth and formation of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that lowers the brain’s reaction to anger, and affects body temperature, mood and sleepiness.
The carbohydrate content compared to other grains is 63g/100g, which means it contains the least amount of sugar, it’s gluten-free, making it a highly recommended food for people intolerant to gluten.
The amaranth seed also contains fatty acids, such as Omega-3, which improve the immune system, help with fat loss, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Among the minerals, you can find in amaranth are calcium, phosphorus, iron and zinc which are some of the most nutritionally important. Amaranth also contains the following vitamins: riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), folic acid (B9), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), thiamine (B1) (NOT VITAMIN A), biotin (vitamin B) and beta-carotene, all the essential vitamins of a healthy eating. Lack of good vitamins can lead to diseases, and the presence of amaranth in one’s dietary habits can prevent many such diseases caused by vitamin deficiency.
Amaranth is highly recommended for people suffering from diabetes and cholesterol problems as it helps to stabilize blood glucose and fat levels. It contains more fiber than other common grains and is highly recommended for people with obesity, high blood pressure, chronic constipation, and diverticulitis, among others.
Amaranth, whether as a whole grain or in ground flour form, can be used in different ways. Amaranth leaves can be used to prepare soup, salads, juice, tortillas (thin unleavened bread), tamales (food made of dough steamed in banana leaves and filled with meats, cheese etc) and other types of food. It is also excellent to be consumed fresh. Popped amaranth seeds are used to make an amaranth sweet candy (alegría), mazapán (Mexican peanut candy), puffed cereal, granola, and amaranth flour and drinks.
Because of all this, amaranth is considered to be an excellent nutritional source.