If you're interested in expanding your repertoire of grains beyond the usual rice, oats and polenta, and especially if you're looking for a gluten-free alternative to wheat flour, amaranth covers both bases—it's a grain and it's a flour.
What Is Amaranth?
Amaranth is considered a "pseudocereal" rather than an actual grain since it's technically a seed. It can be cooked the same way as rice and oats—by simmering it—although it requires more cooking liquid than other grains. Other examples of pseudocereals are quinoa and buckwheat. Indeed, both amaranth and quinoa are from the family Amaranthaceae.
Like other cereal grains and pseudocereals, amaranth can be prepared in its whole seed form or ground into flour. Since it's gluten-free, amaranth flour is a popular ingredient with gluten-free bakers.
How to Use Amaranth
Amaranth can be enjoyed in both sweet and savory recipes. Amaranth can be cooked by simmering, just like cereal grains like rice and oats, but with one important difference. Unlike rice and other grains that are cooked in a volume of liquid equal to what they will absorb, amaranth needs more liquid.
Amaranth releases a large amount of starch during cooking, which means the cooking liquid becomes extremely thick. If you cook amaranth until its cooking liquid is absorbed, the finished result will be thick and clumpy due to the excess starch gluing the individual granules together.
So when you're cooking amaranth, use three cups of liquid per half cup of uncooked amaranth, and cook it until the grains are soft (although they will retain a slight crunch). Crucially, when it's finished, all of the cooking liquid will not be absorbed. Therefore, cooked amaranth needs to be drained, much like pasta, and rinsed before serving.
Of course, this cooking liquid is rich with starch, seasonings (assuming you added some to the cooking liquid) and other nutrients and shouldn't simply be discarded. It's a great thickener for soups and sauces, including pasta sauce. You can also freeze the liquid in ice cube trays and add it later to soups, stews and sauces.
Amaranth flour is a common ingredient in gluten-free baking. But note that it's a heavy flour, so you're best off limiting your amaranth flour to 1/4 of the total flour in your recipe, by weight, otherwise your baked goods will be extremely dense.
What Does It Taste Like?
Amaranth's flavor is nutty and slightly peppery, with a crunchy texture, similar to that of quinoa. Popped, it's lighter and lightly crisp.
Use amaranth in savory dishes or as a sweet breakfast porridge. The flour can be incorporated into baked goods like bread.
Another way to use amaranth is to pop it like popcorn, which you can do by adding a tablespoon of uncooked amaranth seeds to a hot, dry skillet. If your pan is hot enough, the amaranth seeds will pop within a few seconds. Note that amaranth seeds are tiny, and although the popped amaranth will double in volume, even the popped kernels will still be very small.
You can use the popped amaranth in all kinds of ways, like sprinkle over salads, stir it into soups, bake it into breads and cookies, or simply enjoy it as a snack or even a breakfast cereal.
Where to Buy Amaranth
Whole amaranth and amaranth flour can be found at many grocery stores, often in the health-food sections of the store, and it can also be purchased from various online retailers. It's often sold by the pound or in bags of one, five, or 10 pounds. Also look for amaranth in bulk bins.
The main challenge with storing amaranth is preventing rancidity, so always store it in an airtight container in a cool place, away from bright light. Whole uncooked amaranth can be kept in the pantry for up to four months and for twice that long in the freezer. Amaranth ﬂour will stay fresh in the pantry for 2 to 3 months and in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Nutrition and Benefits
Amaranth is considered a complete protein as it offers all nine essential amino acids. A 100-gram serving provides 102 calories, 3.8 grams of protein, and 2.1 grams of fiber. It also contains 1.6 grams of fat and 19 grams of carbs.