Amaranth is a plant that produces edible seeds, which are also called amaranth. Amaranth is generally considered a grain because of the way that it is prepared and eaten. Technically, however, amaranth is not a grain; it is a seed. The plant is related to beets, spinach, and quinoa.
Amaranth was a dietary staple for pre-Columbian Aztecs in Mexico. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico, they wanted to impose their ways of life onto the Aztecs; this included their diet. Because of this, all of the crops of amaranth were burned. Thereafter, possession of amaranth was a crime that warranted severe punishment.
Amaranth has dark green, wide leaves. The plant grows into a bushy, full shrub, approximately 6 feet tall. The plant produces vibrantly-colored flowers with up to 60,000 seeds per flower head.
Amaranth seeds are cooked as hot cereal with a thick oatmeal-like consistency. They can also be cooked in oil like popcorn, giving the seeds a nutty flavor. The seeds are ground into flour, which is used in baking and as a thickening agent for soups and stews.
Amaranth contains several components that contribute to its health benefits. The seeds contain the amino acid lysine, which is a building block of protein and helps the body absorb calcium. Amaranth contains almost twice as much lysine as wheat. The seeds also contain calcium, iron, and magnesium, which are all important to proper organ function and the preservation of lean body mass.
The fiber content in amaranth is three times that found in equal amounts of wheat. Fiber helps to clean the body's intestines, which can prevent certain types of cancers. The vitamin E in amaranth may help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Amaranth prefers to be planted in full sun. It prefers rich soil that is high in nitrogen and phosphorous. Rich, loamy soil is best, but amaranth also adapts to thick, clay soil. A well-fertilized amaranth plant can yield more than 6 oz. of seed.