What You Need to Know About Amaranth: Your Powerful Gluten-Free Grain

What You Need to Know About Amaranth: Your Powerful Gluten-Free Grain

Growing up as a Filipino, I have always considered rice as an important food in every meal. I’d pair rice with chicken and vegetables or mix it in soup and stews. As I became more knowledgeable about my food intake and various kinds of grains, I started including other grain alternatives in my diet, such as quinoa and adlai. However, only recently did I find out about another protein-rich, gluten-free grain, called amaranth.

What is amaranth?

Amaranth is composed of starchy seeds from upright, tropical leafy amaranth plants. It first originated from Mexico and served as a popular crop for the Aztecs. Since then it has become used in various other countries, such as in India and Nepal, where the crop hones a religious significance. Here in the Philippines, the amaranth plant is widely grown and cultivated due to the suitable climate conditions. While most Filipinos traditionally consume only the green, leafy amaranth vegetable (kulitis), amaranth as a grain is slowly gaining popularity for its protein-packed and nutrient-rich content.

Amaranth is botanically not a member of the cereal or grass family. Thus it is considered as a pseudocereal, like quinoa and buckwheat, as the seeds have similar nutritional value and culinary purposes as true cereal grains, such as rice and oats. Amaranth can be boiled, popped, sprouted, and added to several dishes for a slightly extra nutty, malty flavor. The creamish yellow-colored amaranth grains are spherical in shape, but appear smaller in size than quinoa seeds.

Amaranth (left), quinoa (right)

Nutritional value

How does the nutritional profile of amaranth compare with other grains? Let’s take a look at the table below:

Nutritive Value per
100-gram
cooked grains
AmaranthQuinoaWhite rice (medium-grained)Brown rice (medium-grained)Adlai
Energy (kcal)102120130112123
Carbohydrates (g)18.721.328.623.528.2
Protein (g)3.84.42.42.32.3
Fat (g)1.61.90.20.80.4
Dietary Fiber (g)2.12.80.31.83.8
Calcium (mg)471731011
Iron (mg)2.11.51.50.51.3
Manganese (mg)0.90.60.41.10.3
Phosphorus (mg)148152377754
Magnesium (mg)6564134422
Glycemic Load910161112
Source: nutritiondata.self.com

Like quinoa, amaranth contains higher levels of protein versus popular cereal grains. In fact, it is actually a complete protein, having all nine essential amino acids. The grain provides an abundant source of lysine, cysteine, and methionine, amino acids scarcely found in rice, wheat, and corn. Amaranth also boasts high amounts of minerals, such as calcium, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron for a well-balanced diet, making the grain an incredible superfood!

Health benefits

1. Amaranth reduces inflammation.

Amaranth grains can reduce inflammation, an immune response that when overactive can lead to the development of chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders. Amaranth contains protein compounds that can inhibit inflammation. Anti-inflammatory foods, like amaranth, can also help relieve pain from arthritis and gout.

2. Amaranth improves bone health.

High levels of calcium in amaranth participate in the generation, maintenance, and strengthening of bones in our bodies. A lack of calcium in the diet may make bones weaker and more vulnerable to fractures and bone conditions, such as osteoporosis.

3. Amaranth fights diabetes and regulates blood glucose levels.

Manganese in amaranth grains helps regulate blood glucose levels by properly producing enzymes involved in gluconeogenesis, a metabolic process that generates glucose from non-carbohydrate sources. Amaranth also has a low glycemic load, indicating that blood glucose levels do not rapidly spike after consumption because carbohydrates in amaranth are more gradually metabolized. Thus, amaranth is perfect for those wary of their blood sugar levels.

4. Amaranth aids in digestion.

Dietary fiber amaranth promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and encourages regular bowel movements to release wastes to prevent constipation. When dissolved in the digestive tract, soluble fiber in the grain can help trap and release unwanted toxins from the body. The gluten-free nature of amaranth is suitable for those who have celiac disease, wherein gluten can damage the lining of the small intestine.

How to use amaranth

To cook the grain, add one and a half cups of water to half a cup of amaranth and boil in a saucepan for around 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed. You may also add some fruits and spices to enhance the flavor. Try using cooked amaranth as your grain alternative or as ingredients in savory dishes.

Amaranth’s gelatinous quality when cooked can be a thickening agent in soups and stews. Add a few tablespoons of amaranth in these dishes while they are cooking.

Amaranth can also be popped like corn kernels! Heat a tablespoon of amaranth seeds at a time in a dry skillet and shake until the seeds starting popping. Add some seasoning and eat it for snack instead of popcorn or top it in your salads.

Since amaranth is technically composed of seeds, it can be sprouted to increase nutrient absorption and break down phytic acid. Soak amaranth seeds in cold water for around 20-30 minutes and rinse them thoroughly before allowing them to germinate for around 2 to 3 days.

Store amaranth in an airtight container away from heat and light at room temperature. The grains will remain fresh for up to six months.

Recipes

Zucchini stuffed with amaranth (left), amaranth porridge with caramelized bananas and pecans (right)

Final thoughts

  • Amaranth is a great grain alternative for its substantial protein and nutrient content! It has a nutty and earthy flavor and looks like quinoa, but is smaller in size.
  • Amaranth offers startling health benefits, such as reducing inflammation, improving bone growth, fighting diabetes, and aiding in digestion.
  • Amaranth has versatile uses in meals, as it can be boiled, popped, sprouted, or added into soups and stews to thicken them!

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References

Bea Reyes

Bea is a summa cum laude graduate of the BS Biology program in the University of the Philippines Diliman. She is an aspiring medical physician who aims to integrate functional foods and holistic wellness in her practice. Her interests lie in sustainable living, mindful self-care, and fitness, and strives to empower other individuals with these passions. In her free time, she loves creating hearty food recipes, listening to inspirational podcasts, nature walks, and staying active.

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