The return of the ancient grains – Amaranth

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The return of the ancient grains – Amaranth

Aztecs knew the power of amaranth 6000 years ago, and still it remained unknown for the western world for centuries. In that time it was highly appreciated food, used as gift to the kings and even used in religious ceremonies. New civilization coming from Europe tried to assimilate natives, and one of the steps was erasing their religious rituals and that included amaranth. Although the growing and processing was punishable, it managed to survive in those areas, and in that time it was smuggled in other countries. Fortunately this plant gained its deserved attention in past years, including many researches and development of product.

This is a pseudo cereal like quinoa and buckwheat, and fits in that category from a nutritional point of view. There are over 60 different species, but only three are grown for food application, and among them Amarantus cruentrus is most commonly used. Amarant’s leaves and grains are used as a food, and the plant is used as a decoration also for its remarkable flower (WGC 2, 2015). The seeds are very important cereal replacement for consumers that are gluten intolerant, but also for the ones that want to exclude gluten for their diet. The seeds of Amaranth are small, similar to the size of mustard seed, with a creamy, golden, brown or pink color. They are prepared by cooking in water in a ratio of 1:3, for 30 minutes. The leaves and stems are also mainly cooked before eating.

Single serving, or 45 g dry grain, contains half of the average daily values of manganese. It is also excellent source of magnesium and phosphorus, and a good source of iron, coper, selenium and vitamin B6, and fiber. But what is most known for is the presence of proteins, regarding not only the amount but also the fact that it contains one of the essential amino acids – lysine, rarely found in plant sources (WGC 1, 2015). Seeds are also high in oil (almost 10%) and two thirds of this is unsaturated fatty acid. The most important constituents for health benefit promotions are phytosterols, known to lower cholesterol (GLNS, 2015). The leaves are also rich in proteins, dietary fiber, iron, calcium and vitamin C, vitamin A and folate (Olumakaiye, 2011).

The past two decades besides Mexico and other countries of South America it is cultivated in China, Russia, Nigeria, India, Nepal, Nigeria and others. It grows in altitudes from sea level to about 3200 meters above, at temperature between 16 ºC and 35 ºC, but it can survive high temperatures and is frost hardy (ACTI et al. 1984). Some varieties may be sensitive to long sunlight. This is one of the most popular ancient grains, as rise of the sales of 123% in 2014 point that out (WGC, 2014).

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