There was a single "Hopi Red Dye" amaranth in some plants I received from my friend Daisy last summer (above). The tiny little flowers in the foreground and around the amaranth are my perennial marjoram. This burgundy red beauty grew to 2 feet and is a tender annual that can re-seed in some areas. In hotter areas it grows 4-6 feet tall. Some of my cooking class students that are into gardening and landscaping told me that it is grown as a flower. I got to thinking that it must be edible as amaranth is eaten as a grain in South America. But was this red amaranth edible?
I did a bit of research and found that the baby leaves are edible and can also be used to add red contrast to salad greens. Young plants can be steamed and the seeds are also ground into a high-protein, gluten-free flour. It is said to have been used by the Hopi as a food dye and to produce red cornbread. I dried the seeds so I can grow more this summer. The seeds are smaller than poppy seeds and you can see a few of them around the dish of the plate below. The grains, which are actually seeds, cook up a bit sticky so it is often recommended you cook them with other grains like rice or oats.
I also read that the seeds of amaranth can be cooked like rice or popped like popcorn. I don't have enough to do that but the idea intrigues me. You would have to grow a lot of it for amaranth popcorn! Have any of you tried popping it? To pop the amaranth you heat the seeds in skillet, with or without oil and you are supposed to end up with little white puffs. Put a lid on it as they pop so they don't escape! You can use these as mini croutons on soup or salad. I like that idea.
Both amaranth and quinoa were considered sacred by the Aztecs and Incas. Obviously the Hopi too given the name of this variety of amaranth plant. I teach nutrition and I often site that there are 3 sources of complete proteins in the plant world - soy beans, amaranth and quinoa. Amaranth has 15-18% protein. Both grains contain high amounts of the amino acids lyseine and methionine which are generally present in low amounts in common grains. Amaranth is higher in fibre and iron than whole-grain wheat and suited to gluten-free and wheat-free diets.
Nancy Guppy, RD, MHSc.
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