What Is Amaranth?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Puffed amaranth in a bowl

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Amaranth is an ancient grain that is similar to quinoa. The small, light tan colored seed is cooked similarly to rice and oats and eaten as a pilaf or porridge. Amaranth is also ground into a flour and used in baking, particularly in recipes that are gluten-free. Amaranth is sold as both seed and flour and is often found in the health food section of the supermarket.

Fast Facts

  • Shelf Life: 4 months
  • Sold as: seed and flour
  • Related to: quinoa


What Is Amaranth?

Amaranth is considered a "pseudocereal" rather than an actual grain since it's technically a seed. Other examples of pseudocereals are buckwheat and quinoa; 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.

Amaranth can be enjoyed in both sweet and savory recipes and is cooked by simmering, similarly to cereal grains like rice and oats. This seed is much smaller than other common grains and is just slightly larger than a poppy seed in size.

Amaranth vs. Quinoa

Because these seeds are from the same family, they share several qualities. Although amaranth and quinoa are referred to as ancient grains, they are both seeds; the two pseudocereals are also naturally gluten-free. Compared to other grains, amaranth and quinoa have short cooking times, although it does take slightly longer for amaranth to reach the desired doneness.

A visual difference is size: amaranth is a much smaller grain than quinoa. Another obvious differentiation is found in the aroma and flavor. Amaranth is much more distinctive compared to quinoa, with a grassy smell and nutty, strong herbal taste that can be overwhelming for some. While quinoa's mildness allows it to take on the flavors of the other ingredients in the dish, amaranth takes center stage.

How to Cook With Amaranth

Depending on whether you are using the seed or flour will determine how the amaranth is cooked as the two forms are used very differently in recipes.

Amaranth Seed

Amaranth is cooked similarly to rice where it is added to boiling water and cooked until the liquid is absorbed. If making a pilaf, the measurements should be 1 cup amaranth and 1 1/2 cups water; for cereal, 2 1/2 cups of water is needed for 1 cup of amaranth.

Another way to use amaranth is to pop it like popcorn. Add a tablespoon of uncooked amaranth seeds to a hot, dry skillet; 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. When added to baked goods or granola, the toasted seeds contribute a unique texture.

Amaranth Flour

Amaranth flour is a common ingredient in gluten-free baking. Since it's heavy, it should be limited to 1/4 of the total flour in the recipe (by weight), otherwise, the baked goods will be extremely dense. It combines well with almond flour and works nicely as a thickener in soups and sauces.

What Does It Taste Like?

Amaranth's flavor is nutty, herbal, and slightly peppery. It has a crunchy texture, similar to that of quinoa. Toasted or "popped" amaranth has a more enhanced nutty flavor and is lightly crisp.

Amaranth Recipes

Amaranth can be used in savory dishes as well as a sweet breakfast porridge, while the popped amaranth can be sprinkled over salads, stirred into soups, baked into breads and cookies, or simply enjoyed as a snack or even a breakfast cereal. The flour can be incorporated into baked goods like bread and pizza dough.

Where to Buy Amaranth

Whole amaranth and amaranth flour can be found in many grocery stores, often in the health-food sections, and can also be purchased from various online retailers. It's often sold by the pound or in bags of one, five, or 10 pounds, as well as in bulk.

Storage

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 a nutritional powerhouse, boasting high amounts of protein, fiber, and iron. This seed has more protein than oats and contains an important protein building block that improves the quality of the protein. Amaranth has much more fiber than other grains and has nearly double the amount of iron compared to quinoa.

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.

Article Sources
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  1. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170683/nutrients