Amaranth: Source of Gluten-Free Flour and a Delicious Vegetable
From Prehistory to Today
Amaranth is a flowering plant that is native to Europe, Africa, Central America, and South America, and has been used as a source of food and dyes for millenia. When the Spanish first arrived in Mexico, they discovered this plant as the Aztecs used it -- the seeds ground, mixed with honey or blood, and eaten in non-Christian ceremonies, that, to the Spanish, resembled Christian communion. The Spanish were horrified and forbade its use, and with that, the knowledge of using this plant might have died out, were it not for a few remote communities in Latin America that continued to use the amaranth as it had always been used. Now amaranth is being raised commercially, and amaranth flour is routinely sold in health food stores. We should be grateful to those remote native communities, because the flour made from this plant is nutritious and safe for those with wheat or gluten allergies.
While it was not much used in antiquity except as a vegetable, the Greeks knew the amaranth; it appeared in Æsop's fables, and was widely known for its long-lasting and beautiful blooms. In Africa, it has been used as a staple food source since antiquity. As a vegetable, it is delicious and has a very high nutritional value, and is easy to grow. The leaves, stems, roots and seeds of the plant are all edible. The grains can be toasted like popcorn for a snack, and the flowers make a brilliant red dye. So this is one of nature's most useful plants!
Amaranth is an easy plant to grow, requires no special care, and each individual flower can produce up to a half a million seeds, or 1 kilogram of seeds, with multiple flowers on a single plant, thus making it an unusually productive source of food. There are three varieties grown for grain: a. caudatus (from South America), a. cruentus(from Central America),and a. hypochondriacus (from Mexico). These weedy plants are highly tolerant of many conditions, grow rapidly, and are easily harvested. Like all of these plants, they need room and sun, but little care until harvesting. Amaranth is also known as pigweed, and indeed, it grows just like a weed in the right climates.
Amaranth is considered as a very valuable plant for the domestic security of food crops, and its growth is encouraged. However, not all species of the plant are equally valuable, so make sure you are getting an edible variety when you buy the seeds. Otherwise, you'll wonder what all the fuss is about!
The seeds can be cooked and used as a breakfast cereal much like oatmeal or other hot cereals: simply add 1 part of seeds to three parts of water, and cook until tender. The seeds may also be sprouted and used in salads.
The root is delicious, with a milky taste, and the leaves taste a little like spinach. Cook the root as you would turnip or beets, and use the leaves as you would any leafy greens.
Making and Using the Flour
Making amaranth flour: Gather and dry the seeds, then grind them (I use a home grinding mill). Store in a dark, cool, place and use within three months.
Using the flour: this flour has no gluten, and therefore must be mixed with gluten or other flours (1 part amaranth to three parts flour with gluten) for recipes that need gluten. By itself, you can use amaranth flour to make pasta, pancakes, pizza crusts, pie crusts, or flatbreads, or use it for battering food or thickening soups, stews, sauces and gravies. Otherwise, mix amaranth flour with vital gluten or another gluten-containing flour, and use as normal. Be careful not to overcook this flour, or it will become gummy.
More about Flours
- Making Flours at Home
For whatever reason, whether people just want fresher ingredients, or perhaps they want to do their own quality control, more people are making flour at home.
- Prickly Pear Cactus Seed Flour
That's right! In addition to the delicious nopales, a wonderful vegetable, and delicious prickly pear fruits, this well-known cactus is beneficial as food in another way -- you can grind up the seeds to make an excellent gluten-free flour!
Amaranth Grain, Cereal, Seeds
Whole grains, for cooking, grinding into flour, popping, or for breakfast cereal.