Let’s talk about amaranth. What is amaranth, you ask? It’s a teensy tiny ancient grain (a pseudocereal, really) that dates back over 8,000 years to pre-Columbian Aztec days where it was a staple food. Amaranth (as well as quinoa and buckwheat) is super high in plant-based protein, is loaded with calcium and iron, and has three times the fiber content than wheat. It can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, can purportedly prevent cancer, can reduce pain and inflammation, boost the immune system, and can even prevent premature graying of the hair (wish I’d heard that 15 years ago!). Plus, it’s 100% gluten free, thus making it safe for those with gluten intolerances and celiac disease.
Sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? Who would not want to consume this superfood every day?
I even like the name, it rolls off your tongue like a whisper. Say it with me now…amaranth… See? It’s a lovely, breathy word. It’d be a great name for a fairy princess or a forest nymph, don’t you think? It’s a pretty plant, too, one I’d like in my garden. And, yay, it's perennial! Friends don't let friends plant annuals, you know.
Somehow amaranth has alluded my kitchen thus far, so I wanted to explore its culinary capabilities a bit further. Sure, I’ve enjoyed amaranth in cereals and breads and probably mixed into grain bowls of some healthy sort, but its flavor is virtually undetectable in such preparations. Cooked on its own would it be like my beloved quinoa? Will I discover another delicious grain I could cook up for Buddha bowls?
And so began my research.
I read you can pop it like popcorn, but this confused me because it's such a itty bitty grain. Wouldn't you need to pop an entire 24-ounce bag to yield the proper amount for movie night? Perhaps they meant popped amaranth would make a good snack food for Lilliputians?
Nope, I wouldn't be popping it.
Amaranth porridge and pilaf recipes on the Internet are ubiquitous, so I thought I’d give it a try. I cooked 1 cup of amaranth in 3 cups high-quality chicken bone broth (very gut healthy, by the way) and let it simmer for what seemed like a week. I debunked the 20-25 minutes most recipes called for as cook time because unless they all used some space-age turbocharged cooking device that I don’t yet know about there is no way this hard grain would soften in 25 minutes (perhaps it's just supposed to be super al dente?).
Amaranth did not pass the "quick and easy weeknight meal" test.
Cook time aside, for the all stupendous health benefits of amaranth, how does it taste? Let me preface by saying I love nearly every food I have ever tasted, my palate is a veritable welcome wagon for food, but I’ll sum up the flavor in two words and leave it at that:
*Sigh* I so wanted to like you, Amaranth.
Note: Please know that I write this in jest. I did think the flavor of amaranth was truly akin to pond scum, but I will try other preparations until I find one I like. I am a huge proponent of trying foods numerous times until you decide you really do hate it, especially with children as claiming to despise a food after one tasting can easily create unnecessary and lifelong food aversions. 'Nuff said.
Read the rest of the "Suddenly Celiac" series here:
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