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Amaranth

 


Botanical name: Amaranthus caudatus



Amarant

 

Origin, areas of cultivation

Amaranth, also known as "Aztec gold" or "Inca wheat", comes originally from Latin America and belongs to the group of foxtail grasses. For the Incas and the Aztecs, amaranth, like maize, was a staple food. The oldest findings at excavations in Mexico probably date back to 4000 b.c. It is not known, however, exactly when amaranth first came to Asia and Europe.

Following their conquest of South America, the Spanish prohibited its cultivation, because amaranth was held to be a holy plant and was eaten during religious ceremonies. Nevertheless, it survived and has become more and more popular in Germany in the past few years. In health food stores above all, amaranth is meanwhile among the standard range of products.

Today amaranth is grown mostly in Southeast Asia, South and Central America and West Africa.

 

Availability

Over 60 different varieties of amaranth are known worldwide, but only three of these are grown for the purpose of harvesting the kernels for food. Others are used as ornamental and foliage plants.

The amaranth kernels ripen at different times, and this makes the harvest very expensive. Normally, they are harvested by hand from September to October and dried in the sun. They are available dried and further processed throughout the year.

 

Appearance, taste, characteristics

Foxtail plants are more familiar to us as ornamental plants. They can reach a height of up to 3 m. Their up to 90 cm-long pedicels are particularly striking and appear in the most varied colours, from green, yellow and orange to dark red.

Small seeds, the amaranth kernels, grow on the pedicels. These also vary and may be white, brown or black. As a rule, the kernels grown as food are usually light yellow and have a pleasant, slightly nutty flavour.

Especially characteristic of the plant is its ability to resist drought and heat. However, it also grows quite well in raw mountain climates, such as the Peruvian uplands and India at altitudes of up to 3500 m. Amaranth is suited to only a limited extent for cultivation in this country, as the plant ceases to grow below 8°C and suffers damage at temperatures below 4°C.German farmers have succeeded in cultivating amaranth, but the yields are very low.

 

Ingredients

Amaranth is popular especially because it contains calcium, magnesium and iron and stands out for its large amounts of protein, fat and fibre.

The calcium content of amaranth is greater than that of other grains and pseudo grains. The protein content is likewise higher and of greater nutritive value than that in domestic varieties of grain; in particular, it contains the essential amino acid lysine. The other amino acids are also found in balanced proportions.

Further, amaranth is a good supplier of manganese and also contains large amounts of unsaturated fatty acids.

As the kernels do not contain gluten, they are suitable in the diet of persons with coeliac disease. 100 g contain:

 

Amaranth, seeds

Energy (kcal)

365

Water (g)

11

Protein (g)

15

Fat (g)

9

Carbohydrates (g)

57

Fibre (g)

8-16

Vitamin B1 (mg)

0.8

Vitamin B2 (mg)

0.2

Niacin (mg)

1.2

Potassium (MG)

484

Calcium (mg)

214

Magnesium (mg)

308

Manganese (mg)

3

Iron (mg)

9

Zinc (mg)

3.7

Phosphorus (mg)

582

 

Harmful substances

Like millet, amaranth contains tannins, which hinder the absorption of minerals, vitamins and digestive enzymes. In addition, nutritive proteins are not so easily assimilated by the body.

 

Presumed effect on health

A large amount (51%) of the unsaturated fatty acid linoleic acid is contained in amaranth. Unsaturated fatty acids are supposed to promote a reduction of the overall blood cholesterol level.

 

Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

Because of its large surface area, amaranth has a great capacity for absorbing water and, in the form of flour, is well-suited for binding sauces.

When it is used for baking, one part amaranth should be mixed with two parts glutinous flour (e.g. wheat), as otherwise the dough will not rise. The bread or pastry is then not suitable for persons with coeliac disease, however. If amaranth popcorn is added to the dough, the bread will be lighter; the popcorn is easily prepared without fat in a pot with a lid.

If the seeds are allowed to germinate, sprouts appear after about 3 days. These contain almost twice as much lysine as the dry seeds do.

 

Miscellaneous

Usually it is not the seeds that are eaten, but rather the spinach-like leaves of the amaranth that is grown in Southeast Asia. They contain an average of 100 mg vitamin C, 260 mg calcium and 1.8 mg β-carotene per 100 g.

From the leaves, stalks and pedicels of the plant, orange, red and violet dyes can be won, which are often used in the regions of South America as food colouring. However, the colours are not stable.

 

 

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