Amaranth is an ancient grain that was a staple of the Incan and Mesoamerican diet beginning 7,000 years ago. Today the grains and leaves continue to be cultivated, mostly by indigenous cultures, but they've been showing up on more dinner plates in recent years, and for good reason.
The plant is very easy to grow and is extremely nutritious, easy to cook, palatable, and the grains store well. It is due to these factors that it started to make a comeback in the 1970's in health food circles. Nowadays it's quite common to find amaranth grains in your local grocery store in boxed or bulk form, or baked in breads, or in cereals and snacks.
Fresh amaranth leaves are only available for a short time in the summer, and we've only been seeing them at the local farmer's markets. Amaranth leaves are commonly found in Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine, and in Caribbean cuisine they are known as "callaloo." The leaves are also a common vegetable in Africa. The leaves are full of vitamins and minerals, but their high oxalic acid content interferes with the body's ability to absorb calcium and zinc, so people with kidney disorders or gout should avoid eating the leaves.
Read more about amaranth on Wikipedia.
Some recipes using amaranth leaves:
- Thota Kura Peasarapappu - an Indian stir-fry
- A Kenyan recipe of amaranth leaves with mashed pumpkin
- Amaranth Leaves in Coconut Milk
Related: Good Grains: What Is Spelt?
(Image: Kathryn Hill)