Growing grains at home can be a good idea, and the ‘grain’ amaranth is one interesting option to consider growing in your garden. Not only does it produce seeds in abundance, it also provides edible greens, and is a highly attractive ornamental plant. Here, we will look at what is amaranth, what is amaranth used for, and why you should consider growing it in your garden.
Table of Contents
What is Amaranth?
Amaranth is categorised as a “pseudocereal,” being a seed rather than a grain. It belongs to the same family as buckwheat and quinoa, known as Amaranthaceae. Considered a staple food in the Inca, Maya, and Aztec civilisations, amaranth has been cultivated for over 8,000 years.
Amaranth species that are primarily used as a grain are Amaranthus caudatus L., Amaranthus cruentus L., and Amaranthus hypochondriacus.
Amaranth can be used as whole seeds or ground into flour. Amaranth flour is a popular choice for gluten-free baking. The leaves are also edible and the flowers are highly ornamental. It is considered to be versatile, gluten-free, and rich in protein, fibre, micronutrients, and antioxidants and so there are many reasons to consider growing this valuable plant in your garden.
7 Reasons Why to Grow Amaranth in Your Garden
There are many reasons to consider growing amaranth where you live. Below, we will take a look at some of the main reasons why this is a good idea:
1. Amaranth is a Useful Culinary Crop
The primary reasons to grow amaranth in your garden relate to its status as a food producing plant. This is a plant that is extremely useful in its culinary uses. It is highly nutritious as well as delicious and so can be a good crop to add to your repertoire and to include in your home-grown diet. Basically, amaranth is a super food!
2. Amaranth is Aesthetically Pleasing as an Ornamental Plant
As well as being a useful culinary crop and potentially even a staple food, amaranth is also highly ornamental, so looks good in a garden as well as being a productive crop.
3. Amaranth is Easy to Grow and to Process
Amaranth is also remarkably easy to grow. It is a crop that can thrive in a wide range of settings, growing well even in less than optimal conditions.
When used as a ‘grain’ amaranth is also easier to process than many other commonly grown grains that often require specialist equipment in order to process ready for use.
4. Amaranth is a Resource-Efficient and Sustainable Choice
It is considered to be a sustainable crop due to its efficient use of resources. It requires less water and fewer other resources to grow successfully than other more traditional grain crops commonly produced in the UK.
5. Amaranth Often Self-Seeds and is Easy to Propagate
Amaranth can often self-seed in a garden, which can be beneficial in a food producing garden. Growers can also collect the seed easily and store it to sow the following year. This, of course, makes it easier to develop a self-sufficient and sustainable garden where you don’t need to buy in seeds every year in order to perpetuate your planting.
6. Amaranth can be a Useful Companion Plant
Another reason that amaranth can be very useful in a garden is that it can be a good companion plant for a range of other crops.
As it grows tall, it can be useful in altering the environmental conditions and potentially providing some shade for other plants behind it. This can, for example, prevent spinach or lettuce from bolting.
When in flower, amaranth can also attract a wide range of insects, for pest control and pollination purposes. So this means that the insects will be around to help control pest population numbers, and to pollinate other important crops in your garden.
Amaranth may also potentially be of use as a dynamic accumulator of certain nutrients, like its relative pigweed. Though the specifics of this and the efficacy of its use in this way is yet to be investigated in any depth.
7. Amaranth Greens and Seeds are Both Believed to be Beneficial to Human Health
Amaranth is a good source of manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron.
One cup (246 grams) of cooked amaranth contains:
- 251 calories.
- 9.3g protein.
- 46g carbs.
- 5.2g fat.
- 105% of RDI manganese.
- 40% of RDI magnesium.
- 36% of RDI phosphorus.
- 29% of RDI iron.
- 19% of RDI selenium.
- 18% of RDI copper.
Amaranth protein has been considered as a complete protein that is also gluten-free and balanced in amino acid composition. Amaranth protein is rich in bioactive peptides, and its hydrolysis products have been demonstrated to be potential in preventing several diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Amaranth protein is high in albumin, glutenin, and globulin, whereas the variability in albumin and glutenin content is dependent on the geography and variety of amaranth.
According to the FAO, amaranth grain as a source of protein is “superior in content and quality to traditional cereals.
Antioxidants in Amaranth
Antioxidants are natural compounds that safeguard the body against harmful free radicals, which can cause cell damage and contribute to chronic diseases. Amaranth is a beneficial source of antioxidants, promoting health.
Phenolic acids, such as gallic acid, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, and vanillic acid, are abundant in amaranth and function as antioxidants, potentially protecting against heart disease and cancer.
A study on rats revealed that amaranth enhances antioxidant activity and offers liver protection against alcohol-induced damage.
Raw amaranth has the highest antioxidant content, while processing and soaking methods may reduce its antioxidant activity.
Additional research is necessary to comprehend the potential impact of amaranth antioxidants on human health.
Other Health Benefits
Amaranth is also abundant in several pigments, such as carotenoids, chlorophylls, amaranthine, anthocyanins, betalains, betaxanthins, and betacyanins and natural antioxidant phytochemicals, such as vitamin C, betacarotene, flavonoids, and phenolic acids that act as reactive oxygen species (ROS) scavengers in the human body and therefore scientists have found or believe the greens and seeds of these plants to bring a wide range of different health benefits.
Amaranth vs. Quinoa
- Amaranth and quinoa are both ancient seeds and gluten-free.
- Amaranth and quinoa have short cooking times, but amaranth takes slightly longer to cook.
- Amaranth is smaller in size compared to quinoa and has a stronger flavour.
How to Cook With Amaranth
Once you have grown amaranth in your garden, you will find that cooking with it and finding ways to use it is relatively easy too.
Amaranth greens may be cooked and used in all of the same ways as you might cook spinach, chard or other similar leafy green vegetables from your garden.
Amaranth seed is often cooked like one would cook rice, in boiling water. The amount of water you should use in proportion to the seed depends on how you wish to use it precisely. It is used as one would use quinoa or another similar seed.
Amaranth seeds can also simply be scattered into dough and baked into bread, or baked into muffins, cakes or other baked goods.
You can also toast amaranth or pop amaranth seed like popcorn in a hot skillet on a hob or stove.
The seeds can also be ground to produce a flour. This amaranth flour can be used in a wide range of recipes as an alternative to other gluten-free flours. Like other gluten free flours it is best used for only a smaller proportion of the flour in a recipe as otherwise things can turn out rather heavy and will not rise properly. It can also be used as a thickening agent in soups, stews, sauces or other recipes.
If you will not be using amaranth seeds right away, store them in an airtight container in a cool place, away from light. Whole uncooked amaranth can be kept in the pantry for up to four months or in the freezer for up to eight months. Amaranth flour stays fresh for 2 to 3 months in the pantry and up to 6 months in the freezer.
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What is amaranth?
Amaranth is a versatile plant that is considered a “pseudocereal” due to its nutritional profile and uses. It is technically a seed, but it is commonly referred to as a grain.
Why grow amaranth in a garden?
There are several reasons to grow amaranth in a garden:
Nutritional value: Amaranth is highly nutritious, packed with protein, dietary fiber, and various vitamins and minerals.
Gluten-free alternative: Amaranth is naturally gluten-free, making it an excellent choice for individuals with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease.
Edible leaves: The young leaves of amaranth plants are edible and can be used as a nutritious addition to salads or cooked dishes.
Decorative value: Amaranth plants have beautiful, vibrant-colored flowers that can add visual interest and attract pollinators to your garden.
Sustainable farming: Amaranth is a resilient plant that requires less water and fewer resources compared to traditional grains, making it suitable for sustainable farming practices.
How do I grow amaranth in a garden?
Amaranth is relatively easy to grow in a garden. Here are some basic steps:
Planting: Sow the amaranth seeds directly into well-drained soil after the last frost date in your area. Space the seeds according to the specific variety’s recommendations.
Sunlight: Amaranth thrives in full sun, so choose a sunny spot in your garden for optimal growth.
Watering: Provide regular watering to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Amaranth is relatively drought-tolerant once established.
Harvesting: Harvest the amaranth leaves when they are young and tender for culinary use. Allow the flowers to mature and dry on the plant for seed collection.
Seed saving: To grow amaranth in subsequent years, save the dried flower heads and thresh the seeds. Store them in a cool, dry place for future planting.
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Aceituno-Medina, M., Lopez-Rubio, A., Mendoza, S. & Lagaron, J.M., (2013). Development of novel ultrathin structures based in amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus) protein isolate through electrospinning. Food Hydrocoll. 31, pp.289-298. [online] Available at: https://aocs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/sfp2.1002 [Accessed 04/09/23]
Sarker, U., Hossain, M.M. & Oba, S. Nutritional and antioxidant components and antioxidant capacity in green morph Amaranthus leafy vegetable. Sci Rep 10, 1336 (2020). [online] Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-57687-3 [Accessed 04/09/23]
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Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.