It’s no secret that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is disrupting the worldwide wheat supply—which leaves us wondering, what kind of wheat alternatives are there out there?
If you’re looking to expand your whole-grain horizons beyond rice, corn, and quinoa, then perhaps consider giving amaranth a try.
Not only is it healthy, but it is produced in abundance, and the entire plant can be used, meaning much less waste. Plus, amaranth is an incredibly resilient seed as it can withstand droughts, heat, and most pests.
What is amaranth?
Amaranth boasts a strong nutritional profile and is said to have a nutty flavor. It’s not hard to prepare and is versatile as it can be a base for both sweet and savory meals.
Amaranth is a whole grain gluten-free pseudo cereal that falls under the categorical umbrella of other “ancient grains” such as millet, farro, and quinoa.
Actually, quinoa and amaranth are from the same Amaranthacaea family, which also includes beets, chard, and spinach. Quinoa is already known as its own superfood for containing eight grams of protein and three grams of iron per cup. Amaranth, however, contains nine grams of protein and five grams of iron per cup.
What does amaranth look like?
A pile of amaranth looks much like a bunch of tiny pale, golden, or tan seeds. You can consume amaranth as it is, in its seed, or as flour. You can even heat up the seeds and turn them into puffed amaranth, a crispy nutty popcorn-esque snack.
Types of amaranth
There are many varieties of amaranth that are grown for different reasons—some for their seeds, some for their greens, which are also edible, and some for purely ornamental use.
Amaranth types include:
(Amaranthus cruentus), native to Guatemala and Mexico.
Known also as love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus), native to Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador.
(Amaranthus hybridus), native to Eastern North America, Mexico, Central America, and Northern South America.
Prince of Wales feather
(Amaranthus hypochondriacus, which translates to “vigorous, upright plant”), native to Mexico.
(Amaranthus tricolor), native to tropical parts of Asia.
Health benefits of amaranth
Amaranth is a great source of the essential amino acid lysine, which is usually difficult to get enough of for people on plant-based diets. In fact, amaranth is a complete protein, which means it has adequate quantities of all nine essential amino acids.
Amaranth is also rich in fiber, B vitamins, and vitamin E, and offers important minerals like calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese.
To top it all off, amaranth leaves are, like other dark leafy greens, also nutrient-dense and healthy for consumption.
Other health benefits of amaranth include:
Support weight management
Amaranth consumption can support healthy weight management thanks to all its fiber and protein, which helps keep us feeling satiated for longer and reduces the urge to overeat.
Support heart health
There’s a lot of evidence out there that suggests that the consumption of whole grains and pseudocereals can reduce the risk of heart disease and other causes of death.
One study in particular shows how amaranth is especially helpful in lowering LDL cholesterol (also known as the “bad” cholesterol).
Help with inflammation
Contains important antioxidants
Amaranth is a wonderful source of antioxidants like phenolic compounds, which have been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers and neurodegenerative diseases.
However, a higher antioxidant activity has been found in the amaranth seeds rather than in amaranth flour or popped grains. Also, though soaking the amaranth might increase nutrient bioavailability and absorption, it seems to reduce its antioxidant potential.