Amaranth is a tiny seed, about 1 to 2 mm across, of three species of amaranthus. It originated in Mexico and Central and South America. There, this pseudo-cereal crop was already, cultivated 5000 years ago. The Incas, Mayas and Aztecs considered amaranth a staple food as well as maize and beans. After the arrival of the Spanish conquistador the cultivation of the crop was banned. In response, the indigenous population stored their harvest in hard to reach places of mountainous Central and South America. It is only in the 16th Century that amaranth was introduced in Europe, but only as an ornamental plant. From there, different species of amaranth spread throughout the world during 17th, 18th and 19th century. In India, China and under the harsh conditions of Himalayas this plant became important grain and/or vegetable crop.
At present amaranth is grown in the USA, South America, India, China and Russia. The Czech Republic is the most important grower in Europe (approx. 250 hectares). Today this seed supplements other grains in many baked goods and breakfast cereals, and snacks. The Aztec combination of popped amaranth seeds and sticky sweetener lives on in Mexican alegria ("joy"). In India amaranth is known as rajeera (the king's grain) and is the main ingredient of Indian laddoo (traditional sweet).
Amaranth is an interesting seed for coeliacs as it is nutritious and free of gluten. There is a breakdown of its composition for a serving of 100g:
Water 9.84g ; Protein 14.45g ; Fat 6.51g (Saturated Fat 1.662 mg, Monounsaturated Fat 1.433 mg, Polyunsaturated Fat 2.891 mg) ; Carbohydrates 66,71g ; Vitamin C 4.2 mg ; Thiamin 0.08 mg ; Riboflavin 0.208 mg ; Niacin 1.286 mg ; Vitamin B6 0.223 mg ; Folate 49 mcg ; Food Folate 49 5.6 mcg ; Dietary Folate Equivalents 49 mcg ; Pantothenic Acid 1.047 mcg ; Calcium 153 mg ; Iron 7.59 mg ; Magnesium 266 mg ; Phosphorus 455 mg ; Potassium 366 mg ; Sodium 21 mg ; Zinc 3.18 mg ; Copper 0.777 mg ; Manganese 2.26 mg.
Energy for 100g: 374 kcal or 1565kj
Amaranth seeds can be cooked like all edible cereals; Steamed or boiled, they are great puffed. They enter the composition of yeast breads in a ratio 1/3 amaranth flour 2/3 wheat flour on average. The reason for this is the lack of gluten components, glutenin and gliadin, does not allow the creation of the elasticity and plasticity necessary to the development of the dough. It is possible to bake breads made exclusively from amaranth flour with the use of baking powder. The result is a soda bread type of baked goods. Amaranth is a good substitute to wheat flour in the making of batters, crepes, pancakes and fritters, etc. Amaranth is also, used in breakfast cereals and sports bars.
Note that the leaves can also, be cooked like spinach or in salads.
Useful links about gluten intolerance: