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The Ancient Superfood

Not many people have heard about amaranth and even fewer people probably know what to do with it!

Amaranth is considered a superfood because of its wonderful health benefits.  Amaranth seeds go back at least 8,000 years when they were eaten by the hunter-gatherers of Mesoamerica.  It was around 3,000 BC that the amaranth plant became domestic, when it was cultivated by the Incas, the Maya and the Aztecs.  The Aztecs considered amaranth to be a superfood with religious and magical properties.  They would crush amaranth seeds and mix them with honey and human blood before moulding then into Indian idols which they used for religious ceremonies.  When the Spanish conquered these areas, they considered these practices an abomination and banned the growth and possession of the seed.

There are different species of amaranth which are grown for different purposes.  Some species are grown for decorative purposes while others are cultivated for their leaves and their seeds.  Although amaranth is often considered to be a grain, it is actually a seed.  It is slightly bigger than a poppy seed and can be cooked in water like quinoa and has a slightly sweet, nutty taste with a sticky texture.

Amaranth is a great source of protein, containing approximately 16%.  It is higher in lysine than any other grain, as well as being rich in mathionine and cysteine.  It is highly fibrous and laden with vitamins and minerals.  It is a great source of minerals and antioxidant vitamins.  Its tocotrienol and phytosterol properties make it a cholesterol-lowering food.

Amaranth can either be popped like popcorn and tossed into salads or cooked and used like rice.  It is easy to cook, just use a 1:3 ratio of seed to water.  Amaranth flour can be used to replace wheat flour in baking by substituting 1/3 cup of amaranth for every cup of wheat flour.  It can be added to soups, tabbouleh and pilaffs as well as used to make crackers, flatbreads and granola bars.

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