A friend recently emailed me to say he’d bought a bag of amaranth, and did I have any information about it? All I knew was that amaranth is a tiny seed from a plant native to South America, it’s high in protein, and it’s gluten free. But I’d never tasted it before. Sometimes it takes a person asking me a question to make me try something new. I mean, I can't very well give advice if I don't have some firsthand experience to back it up.
So I purchased a little bag of amaranth from the bulk section of our food co-op and made amaranth porridge for breakfast.
If you have time -- it takes about half an hour to cook -- amaranth makes a delicious hot cereal. It has a mild, almost fruity flavor, and a texture that’s creamy but not mushy. You can feel those tiny seeds go “pop” in your mouth.
Like most cereal grains, amaranth can also be prepared as a side dish. Just use less water (about a 2:1 ratio) and cook on low heat without stirring, like rice. You can also buy amaranth ground into flour for gluten-free baking.
As far as its nutritional report card goes, amaranth is quite impressive. No grain even comes close. Besides being high in available protein, amaranth boasts significant amounts of calcium (twice as much by weight as milk), iron, magnesium, B vitamins, and fiber. According to The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, amaranth also contains unusually high levels of phytosterols, those good plant fats that lower bad cholesterol and protect your cardiovascular health.
I’ve read that you can pop amaranth just like popcorn. (I'm definitely going to try this next.) If you bake with amaranth flour, bear in mind that since it's gluten-free, it won't rise very well. In other words, it works better for cookies and pancakes than it does for bread and other baked goods that typically have an airy texture.
Amaranth porridge (makes one serving)
I never use sugar or maple syrup on my hot cereal. Instead, I add raisins or other dried fruit and let them cook along with the cereal for a while. This makes the porridge nice and sweet without sugar. Give it a try!
1 cup water 1/4 cup amaranth seeds 2-4 Tb. raisins or diced dried fruit like apricots, dates, or prunes chopped apple, sliced banana, blueberries, walnuts, almonds, or your favorite toppings dash cinnamon 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract milk or half-and-half (optional)
Bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Add amaranth and reduce heat. Cook on low heat, stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes or until most of the water is absorbed and the cereal is creamy and smooth. (I like to cover the pot, but if you do this, keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t boil over.)
Toward the end of cooking time, add the raisins or dried fruit and cook for several more minutes. Stir in cinnamon and vanilla just before serving. Top with fruit and nuts of your choice and a splash of milk or half-and-half, if you like.