You may never have heard of it, and yet amaranth was once one of the main foods of the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas before it was forgotten. After long centuries in the dark, this little quinoa-like seed is making a comeback in its home region and is starting to make itself known to us too. Nothing too surprising when you take a look at its nutritional values and benefits!
In this article, we tell you all about amaranth and its benefits, and we explain how to cook it.
Where does amaranth come from and what does it contain?
A bit of history before putting it on your plate: Originally from Central America, amaranth, already cultivated several millennia before JC, would be one of the first plants cultivated by humans. Its name, which means “the immortal” in ancient Greek, was not chosen at random. Indeed, the plant has a rather exceptional singularity: it does not fade even after being picked. It is probably for this reason that the Aztec, Incan and Mayan populations regarded it as a sacred plant with supernatural powers. Believing in particular that it had the power to lengthen life, they used it in some of their sacred rites.
It is commonly known as seeds, but amaranth is actually a herbaceous plant with red flowers that can grow up to 3 meters tall. Its flowers take the form of long ears that, depending on the case, rise upward or fall down like a bunch of grapes. These flowers are the seeds of amaranth. However, it is not the only part of the plant that is consumed because its leaves are also edible.
Amaranth has excellent nutritional values, so it’s hard to know where to start talking about its composition. It is, first, very rich in vegetable proteins. Not only does it contain more than most of the grains it compares to, but they are also of better quality. These proteins include lysine, an essential amino acid found in almost no other cereals.
But this is not the only aspect that distinguishes it from cereals. In fact, amaranth is also an excellent source of iron and calcium, but it also contains magnesium, phosphorus and copper in large quantities, as well as zinc and potassium. In addition, it is a great source of fiber and vitamins A, B and C. Finally, amaranth contains little lipids and shows no trace of gluten.
What are the benefits of amaranth?
Given such nutritional values, it goes without saying that amaranth contains many benefits. Here they are.
1. It gives energy
Amaranth, mainly its leaves, is rich in iron, which allows it to fight against fatigue and anemia. The vitamins and minerals it contains also give us energy for the whole day while helping to combat ageing. Consumed regularly, it can even help us improve our physical condition.
2. It helps fight against depression
Brain health can have a direct influence on depression. Indeed, when one does not have all the nutrients they need, the health of the body’s cells takes a hit. This can lead to a severe decline in morale or depression.
To combat this, amaranth contains lysine, an essential amino acid that stimulates the brain. Thanks to it, the brain gets back to health and depression has a hard time keeping its place.
3. It relieves skin conditions and beautifies the skin
Amaranth leaves are effective against many skin irritations and allergies, such as eczema and acne. Indeed, they contain squalene, a lipid that is also found in the sebum of the skin. Thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it nourishes the skin and helps prevent skin problems, but also to relieve and mitigate them.
The consumption of amaranth helps to fight against the cutaneous affections on its own, but you can also use its leaves in mucilage or apply amaranth oil on your skin.
In addition, amaranth moisturizes the skin, promotes its elasticity and makes it radiant.
4. It treats varicose veins
Amaranth also helps to make your skin more beautiful by reducing varicose veins. This is mainly due to its high content of flavonoids, which act against the firming of varicose veins. In addition, vitamin C found in amaranth helps to strengthen the walls of blood vessels. By regularly consuming amaranth, you could see your varicose veins decrease significantly.
5. It strengthens the hair and makes it beautiful
The squalene contained in amaranth does not only have effects on the skin, it also helps to beautify our hair. Not only does it strengthen, cleanse and fight against their fall, but it also acts on their brilliance.
For this, the best solution is to use the amaranth leaves directly on your hair, by chopping or extracting the juice.
6. It improves cardiovascular health
The fibers found in amaranth help eliminate bad cholesterol by cleaning the blood. This lowers blood pressure and thus reduces the risk of coping with a heart problem. Potassium also has an effect on cardiovascular health, which it helps to improve overall.
7. It strengthens the bones
The calcium it contains infiltrates the bone structure to strengthen it from the inside and avoid the demineralization of bones. These are then stronger, which reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis.
8. It protects the eyes
With its content of carotenoids, vitamin A and antioxidants, amaranth has a positive influence on the health of the eyes. Thus, it decreases the risk of suffering from cataracts or macular degeneration.
9. It prevents congenital malformations
Amaranth is also recommended during pregnancy because it is rich in vitamin B9, or folic acid, which plays a vital role in the health and development of the fetus. Indeed, a lack of vitamin B9 can cause malformations in the neural tube of the baby. Regular use of amaranth during pregnancy can reduce this risk significantly.
10. It helps to lose weight
Rich in fiber, amaranth promotes the feeling of satiety and thus helps to eat less. In addition, it would help reduce the desire for sweet, which helps to fight against cracking in the middle of the day!
11. It improves digestion
The fibers contained in amaranth act on several levels to promote digestion. First, amaranth seeds come to rest on the walls of the stomach to form a barrier against any potential aggression. In addition, they also protect the gut from any risk of aggression and help regulate intestinal transit. All of this improves digestion and helps prevent the appearance of digestive disorders such as constipation.
How to consume amaranth?
As we have said, it is possible to consume both seeds and leaves of amaranth. However, what we have not said is that it also exists in the form of flour and flakes. In terms of recipes, you are spoiled for choice!
Its seeds are cooked much like quinoa. Start by rinsing them with a sieve, then put a volume of seeds for two volumes of water in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat and covered for 20 to 30 minutes, until all the water is absorbed by the seeds. If you are fond of quinoa, note that unlike the latter, cooked amaranth seeds have a sticky, even slightly tacky appearance.
Once cooked, you can combine them in the same way as rice or quinoa. But if you do not like their texture, they are also very good in soups, salads or gratins. You can also cook them like popcorn, being careful to put a lid on your pan to avoid projectiles.
Amaranth leaves, on the other hand, are generally cooked like spinach. You can also eat raw in salads, or make infusions.
For its part, amaranth flour can be used in pastries and any other preparation using flour. It is recommended to use it in combination with wheat flour, even rice or corn, for a quarter of amaranth flour for 3/4 of traditional flour. This will make your preparations more fluffy.
Finally, amaranth flakes can be eaten in porridges or used to make muesli or granola.
Did you already know of amaranth? In what form do you prefer to eat it? Let us know in comments below!