Consider it the cure for quinoa burnout.

By Chris Malloy
December 04, 2020
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Amaranth is super-unique in that it has two parts that taste good: leaves and seeds. When people say “amaranth,” they tend to mean seeds, i.e. little pinpricks that look like a teensy grain. Cooked, the seeds have a deliciously earthy, nutty, toasty flavor. They can be used in many of the ways you would use quinoa, farro, or rice, but there are all kinds of quirks that set this ingredient apart. These quirks 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 it 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 pinch hit for, say, barley or wheat berries.

But amaranth is different. 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 your pot. A soupier amaranth might be better under a protein, like steak or roast chicken. A 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 potential not only to enhance your cooking, but to 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 seen as 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. A quarter-cup of uncooked amaranth is 200 calories, 37 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams dietary fiber, and 7 grams protein.

Texturally, amaranth seeds give a little pop as you bite down. In terms of taste, they have something beyond earthiness and toastiness, something almost like peanut butter.

What Is the Best Way to Cook with Amaranth?

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.

How to cook amaranth seeds? Boil them just like rice or quinoa. Some package instructions call for two parts (or so) water for every one part grain, but you might need to up the water to closer to three parts.

You can find amaranth at grocery stores that carry more specialty ingredients. Amaranth greens can prove trickier to find. Luckily, they aren’t uncommon at farmers’ markets, partly due to their love for spreading wild.

Amaranth Greens

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 green salad, treat them like you would kale, meaning hit them early with acidity (citrus juice, vinegar, or vinaigrette) so they soften some. If going raw, look for younger, more tender leaves.

But if you’ve ever cooked them, 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 really nice sandwich green. American cooks haven’t fully embraced amaranth, meaning that we have a lot to learn. You never know what new use you’ll find.