This ancient grain of the Aztecs has been rediscovered by Westerners, although you'll probably need to visit a health-food store or check an on-line source to find it. It has a distinctive sweet but peppery taste -- one that many people prefer combined with other grains, for a more mellow flavor. Technically, it's not a grain; it's the fruit of a plant. And that's the reason it contains a more complete protein, and more of it, than other traditional grains.
Meeting your daily protein needs with complex carbohydrates, rather than animal protein, is both healthier for you and a boon to your weight-loss efforts. That's because animal protein often comes packaged with fat and cholesterol -- two dietary components that you want to consume less.
Protein foods also help to slow down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream. This in turn reduces hunger by reducing insulin levels and making it easier for the body to burn fat.
For something new, different, and highly nutritious in your diet, try amaranth and have some fun experimenting and discovering your favorite ways to use it.
Even when just a little is included in a recipe, the benefit is worth it. For anyone cutting down on meat, amaranth offers a bonanza of near-complete protein. It's not as low in the amino acid lysine, as many other grains are. It is also much richer in iron, magnesium, and calcium than most grains, so it can help keep anemia and osteoporosis at bay. It excels as a source of fiber, mostly insoluble, which is of help in reducing the risk of a variety of diseases, including heart disease, certain cancers and digestive-tract conditions.
Selection and Storage
Amaranth is a tiny, yellow grain. It can be bought as a whole grain ("pearled" amaranth), as a flour, or as rolled flakes. It's also found as an ingredient in cereals and crackers. Expect to pay more for it; amaranth is not widely grown and is difficult to harvest, so it is more expensive than other grains. But, remember, you get a lot of nutritional bang for your buck. Keep amaranth in a tightly closed container to prevent insect infestation. And store in a cool, dry location to prevent healthy fats in it from turning rancid.
Preparation and Serving Tips
This versatile grain can be cooked in liquids and eaten as a porridge or pilaf. It can even be popped like corn. But because of its strong flavor, you may like it best combined with other grains. For baking, amaranth flour must be combined with another flour, such as wheat, because it contains no gluten by itself.
To cook: Cook one cup of grains in three cups of water (yield: three cups). Bring to a boil, then simmer for 25 minutes. The final consistency will be thick, like porridge. If you want to cook it with another grain, such as oatmeal or rice, just substitute amaranth for about a quarter of the other grain, then cook as you would for that grain.
To pop: Stir a tablespoon at a time over high heat, in an ungreased covered skillet, until the grain pops, like corn. This can be used as a breading for fish or chicken or to top salads and soups.
You and your family can enjoy many different foods made from amaranth. In some countries, amaranth is even made into sweets. This plant is easy to grow, is pretty to look at, and you can use it to make many delicious and nutritious foods. Amaranth is an ancient food, and with all these qualities it is sure to be a valued crop for many future generations of people watching their weight.
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