If You Love Quinoa, You Need to Try Amaranth—Here's Why
Amaranth is super-unique in that it has two parts that taste good: leaves and seeds. When talking about amaranth, people tend to mean the seeds (little pinpricks that look like a teensy grain). Cooked, the seeds have a deliciously earthy, nutty, and toasty flavor. They can be used similarly to how you would use quinoa, farro, or rice, but all kinds of quirks set this ingredient apart. These are what give amaranth its humble shine—and what make it deserving of a spot in your pantry. Here's what you should know before you incorporate amaranth into your healthy meal regime.
What Is Amaranth and What Does It Taste Like?
First off, amaranth isn't technically a grain. Like quinoa, amaranth is a pseudo-cereal. Because it isn't a grain, it doesn't have gluten. This makes amaranth an option for people seeking a grain-like ingredient that can substitute for items like barley or wheat berries.
But amaranth is different than quinoa. When cooked, granules are small and stick together, capable of forming a porridge-like consistency. You can temper this consistency by adding more or less water into the pot. Soupier amaranth is better served under a protein, like a steak or roast chicken. Dry amaranth makes more of a millet-like or rice-related sidekick.
In the Americas, amaranth has been grown for thousands of years. It was a staple in ancient Mesoamerica among civilizations like the Aztec. Today, amaranth is a crop with the potential to not only enhance your cooking but feed the world. It can tolerate drought and grow in many regions—a blessing and a curse because amaranth spreads so well that in some places it's considered a weed.
Amaranth's early success as a crop makes sense given its nutritional content. For a non-cereal, it packs a solid amount of protein—the content ranges from 14 percent to 15 percent and is higher than both buckwheat and rye. Amaranth also has phytochemicals and is high in magnesium, manganese, and phosphorous. One quarter-cup of uncooked amaranth has 200 calories, 37 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of dietary fiber, and 7 grams of protein.
Texturally, amaranth seeds give a little pop as you bite down. In terms of taste, they have something beyond earthiness and toastiness, almost like peanut butter.
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What Is Amaranth Used for?
The uses of amaranth are varied. Though not a grain, it has a similar versatility. If you want, you can even cook it with a lot of water, stir in butter and cheese, and treat it like polenta.
To cook amaranth seeds, boil them just like rice or quinoa. Some package instructions call for about two parts of water for every one part of grain, but you might need to increase the water to three parts.
You can find amaranth at grocery stores that carry specialty ingredients.
These greens are a joy, like broccoli rabe without the bitterness. They pack a rich green depth, like spinach. But heads up: You probably want to cook them. If you want to try an amaranth greens salad, treat them like you would kale—meaning add acidity early on (citrus juice, vinegar, or a vinaigrette) so they soften some. If going raw, look for younger, more tender leaves.
If you've ever cooked amaranth greens, not cooking them might be hard. They thrive with a little bit of fat and heat. Simply sauté the greens in garlic and olive oil. Maybe add some water to help the thin stems soften. Once done, they make a great side. And believe it or not, they make a nice sandwich topping.
Amaranth greens can prove trickier to find. Luckily, they aren't uncommon at farmers' markets, partly due to their love for spreading wild. American cooks haven't fully embraced amaranth, meaning we have a lot to learn. You never know what new use you'll find for this versatile ingredient.