A staple grain in many cultures – with origins traced back to pre-Columbian Aztecs – and eaten for centuries across the world, the amaranth plant has a two-fold offering – the seed and the leaf. These offer a variety of nutritive elements. The first, and more commonly used part of the amaranth plant, is the seed, also referred to as the grain (although not technically one), which can be likened to quinoa and prepared in a similar way (aka, cooked in boiling water or popped like popcorn). The second is the leaf, which is similar in nutritional value and texture to that of spinach, beets and Swiss chard and falls into the morogo category.
If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, amaranth might work as the perfect protein boost as it is known to have 30% more protein than other grains. A study published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition states that, “the amaranth protein is among the highest in nutritive quality of vegetable origin and close to those of animal origin products.” This superfood seed is also incredibly high in fibre as well as being gluten-free. Research conducted in 2008 and published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry also detected the presence of a “lunasin-like peptide in the protein in amaranth. Lunasin is thought to have cancer-preventive beneﬁts as well as possibly blocking inﬂammation that accompanies several chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke”. The oil extracted from amaranth (grains of amaranth contain more oil – between 5% and 9% – than other grains) may also help lower levels of cholesterol.
The amaranth seed has also great cooking and usage versatility, which means that the high-fibre, gluten-free, protein-packed alternative can easily be incorporated into various aspects of one’s diet – in a smoothie, as an alternative for breakfast cereals and porridges, or as a replacement for pasta, quinoa or rice.
“(Amaranth can be) cooked and then baked into a tart. It’s very gelatinous once cooked so it can be quite sticky and holds its structure well,” says Chelsea Paull, from Umoya Foods which uses amaranth in its range of products.
The amaranth leaves, also known as Chinese spinach, have a similar texture to spinach or Swiss chard but are superior in nutrition to other greens with three times the amount of calcium and Vitamin B3. These super leaves are also high in magnesium, which helps the human body to metabolise food as well as the synthesis of protein and fatty acids, and manganese, which helps support bone density. Unlike other tropical plants, amaranth leaves have a less slimy texture making them a great alternative for salads or a cooked side. The leaves are firm and with a taste leaning on the slightly sweet side and can be boiled, steamed or fried before adding other ingredients or served on their own. If you’re looking to adopt meat-free Monday, give amaranth a go! ML
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