Amaranth Comes Back Into Vogue
This Columbia Daily Tribune article features NCR-SARE's Chapter 3 Regional Coordinator and Director of Professional Development Programs, Rob Myers, who recently spoke about pseudograins like amaranth, buckwheat, millet and quinoa at during a seminar at the University of Missouri.
Source: Columbia Daily Tribune, Jan Wiese-Fales
Move over wheat, there are some new grains in town. Members of this group of plant seeds, more specifically pseudograins, include amaranth, buckwheat, millet and quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). They are cautiously inching their way into our diets as the laws of supply and demand do a slow dance.
As someone who derives a large portion of her dietary protein from plants, I've kept an eye on this group of protein-rich grains and recently took advantage of the opportunity to hear Rob Myers, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Missouri and a regional director for MU Extension programs for the U.S. Department of Agricultrue Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), discuss them.
Extraordinarily nutritious, not to mention trendily gluten-free, these grains remain pricey ingredients because they are not yet mass-produced. There are many examples of "health-food" products such as breads, cereals and flours that contain them, though they are often mixed with wheat and oats. Myers noted the grains are often ingredients in energy bars and pet food because those are products for which people will open their wallets a little wider.
Because I am thinking about growing it in my vegetable garden, my focus is on amaranth.
Some plants from this genus of 60 or so species already grow in my flower gardens, which includes decorative forms, such as love-lies-bleeding, Joseph's coat and prince's feather. Pigweed also is a member of the genus amaranthus.
Grain amaranth is a tall, broad-leafed, bushy plant, with brightly colored flower heads that produce as many as 60,000 light-colored, lens-shaped small seeds.
Amaranth was consumed by prehistoric cave dwellers and was cultivated and harvested as a staple in the pre-Columbian Aztec diet. It also was incorporated into ritualistic human sacrifices. Appalled, Spanish conquistadores suppressed its growth, and its use in the Americas declined while at the same time it spread to other parts of the world.
Myers credited the Rodale Research Center in for its work in the 1970s to bring amaranth back into production. According to Columbia's Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute, farmers embraced an early maturing line of shorter plants known as K432. More recently, work done at the University of Nebraska Experimental Station resulted in an improved variety it named Plainsman. It is a selection of K432, and the institute recommends it for Missouri farmers.
Amaranth's name originates from the Greek amarantos, meaning "one that does not wither," and Myers confirmed that amaranth — and other alternative grains — is drought-tolerant. It also can be used in crop rotations with wheat. Citing the supply-demand problem, he added that funding for farmers who are willing to give it a try is available from SARE as well as some other national programs.
Most cereal grains are low in the amino acid lysine, but amaranth is lysine-rich. It has high nutritional values of iron, calcium and magnesium and contains as much as 16 percent protein. And it's high in fiber and low in saturated fats.
Amaranth can be prepared like other grains, though one source suggested a 6-to-1 ratio of water to amaranth when boiling, not because the grains soak it up, but because the grain causes the liquid to thicken. After cooking it for 15 to 20 minutes, the liquid should be drained and the grains rinsed.
There are increasing numbers of recipes that incorporate amaranth, from salads to soups to breads and muffins. Ground into flour, it can replace about half of the wheat flour in recipes with no adverse impact on texture or taste.
In South American cuisine, amaranth is popped in a skillet like popcorn, giving it a nutty flavor and crunchy texture. In Mexico, popped amaranth mixed with honey is used to make confections called dulce de alegria.
When grown as a commodity crop, 2 pounds of amaranth are used to seed an acre, which will yield as much as 1,000 or more pounds of grain. The tiny seeds are optimally planted ½-inch deep in rows 30 inches apart. The Jefferson Institute has an excellent overview of the plant, including information for those who might want to grow it commercially, at jeffersoninstitute.org.
I don't have a spare acre on which to plant the pseudograin, but I don't need 1,000 pounds of it, either. A couple of experimental rows of the striking plant — accompanied by kitchen trials and tests — are on my list for next year's garden season.