Amaranth is rising in popularity, and is soon to become even trendier than quinoa. Here’s how and why you could use amaranth as a grain alternative to rice, and how to use it in the kitchen.
From rice to oats, grains are tried-and-true pantry staples. The only problem? It can be easy to get stuck in a rut, especially if you tend to buy grains in bulk. If this sounds familiar, consider adding amaranth to your shopping list. It’s earthy, nutty, and wonderfully versatile, making it perfect for shaking up your grain game. Here, learn all about amaranth, including our favourite ways to use it in your own kitchen.
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What is amaranth and is it healthy?
Amaranth is the seed of the amaranth plant, which is native to South America. It’s a type of pseudocereal (like quinoa) as it’s eaten and consumed like a grain. The seeds are light brown and extremely tiny, about 1 to 1.5 millimetres wide, but don’t let the small size fool you—the minuscule seeds pack a nutritional punch.
According to the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, amaranth offers impressive amounts of fibre, protein, and essential minerals, including calcium and iron. It also holds vitamin C, folic acid, and antioxidants, or beneficial compounds that protect cells from damage. Moreover, amaranth contains no gluten, making it ideal for gluten-free diets.
How to buy amaranth
In the grocery store, amaranth is sold as whole seeds or flour. Whole seeds tend to have a longer shelf-life, so keep that in mind when shopping. Be sure to check the expiration date, as well as the actual seeds if you can. Avoid buying amaranth with discolouration, which may be a sign of spoilage.
How to cook amaranth
Amaranth is unique in that you can boil it in a liquid (like other grains) or pop it like popcorn. The best option depends on your preference and how you plan to serve the ingredient. To enjoy amaranth as a breakfast porridge or side, you’ll want to boil it with liquid.
According to Ann Ziata, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, you’ll need two and a half cups of liquid for every one cup of dried amaranth seeds. (You can also add a pinch of salt, if you’d like.) Water is a classic choice, but according to Sarah House, food innovation chef and recipe developer at Bob’s Red Mill, you can also use fruit juice or broth for sweet and savoury dishes, respectively.
Combine the ingredients in a pot, then simmer over low heat until the grains are fully cooked, about 20 minutes, says Ziata. The amaranth is ready once it becomes creamy and the liquid is absorbed, but you’re welcome to adjust the process according to your needs. For example, if you want firmer grains, cook the amaranth for a bit longer, says House. You can also add additional liquid to loosen its consistency, she adds.
If you have the time, consider soaking the amaranth overnight before cooking. “Soaking the grains makes their nutrients easier to digest and shortens the cooking time,” explains Ziata. Simply combine amaranth and water in a large bowl, completely submerging the grains. When you’re ready to cook, drain and rinse the grains with a fine mesh strainer.
You can also pop amaranth on the stovetop, just like popcorn. This option is ideal if you want to eat it as a snack or add it to granola or baked goods, notes Ziata. To pop amaranth, you’ll need a heavy-bottomed pot with tall sides to keep the grains from popping out, she shares.
Heat the pot on the stovetop, then reduce the temperature to medium-high and add one tablespoon of dried (non-soaked) amaranth. Next, shake the pan to prevent the grains from burning; they should pop relatively quickly. (If not, it means your pot wasn’t hot enough, according to Ziata.)
“Transfer [the] popped amaranth to a bowl and repeat with another tablespoon until you have the desired amount,” says Ziata.
How to use amaranth
According to House, amaranth has an earthly flavour that’s similar to beets. It’s also described as chewy, nutty, and slightly sweet, which means the grain works well with bright flavours like citrus, spices, fresh herbs, and salty cheeses like goat cheese, shares House.
“Also, look at recipes and traditional uses from Mexico, where the grain has strong cultural and historical significance,” she adds. Boiled amaranth makes for an excellent breakfast porridge. Ziata enjoys pairing it with dates, sesame seeds, apricots, almonds, as well as cinnamon and maple syrup. “It can also be used as a savoury porridge, like grits or polenta,” she notes.
And according to House, cooked amaranth can also be chilled and sliced to make fries or cakes, just like polenta.
Both popped and dry (uncooked) amaranth grains can be used in recipes, too. According to House, they add a satisfying crunch to baked goods, including yeasted and quick breads. “Try adding one to two tablespoons to the dough of a seeded yeast bread,” she suggests.
Another option is to replace about one-fourth of the cornmeal in a cornbread recipe with amaranth for extra flavour and texture. Making a batch of homemade granola? House recommends tossing the oats with dry amaranth seeds before baking.
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