Amaranth seeds, with their rich history dating back 8,000 to 7,000 years ago, have not only been a staple in ancient diets but also hold a special place in the realm of health. The first cultivated type, A. cruentas, was domesticated around 6,000 years ago. In Mexico’s Tehuacan Puebla caves, evidence of early agricultural sites dating from around 4,000 BC showed pale forms of cruentas, highlighting their nutritional significance for early communities and their inherent health benefits.
Although it’s challenging to pinpoint the exact start of amaranth cultivation, its profound influence on pre-European Central and South America is evident, with historical records showcasing its presence across regions. Amaranth’s health-promoting properties have been cherished by indigenous tribes along the Colorado River in what is now Arizona and Utah during the mid-19th century.
Amaranth seeds dating back to 1000 BC were found in Uttar Pradesh. It remains uncertain whether amaranth had separate origins in Asia and the Americas or if it originated solely from the Americas. Studies show striking similarities between Asian and American amaranth species, suggesting a New World origin.
The limited variety of early Asian amaranth compared to the diverse range in the Americas supports this idea. Historians and archaeologists now consider the possibility of pre-Columbian transoceanic sea voyages, with the presence of amaranth in ancient Southern India and China adding to the evidence.
Edible pseudocereal grain amaranth is gaining attention due to its high-quality protein and micronutrient content. Its C4 pathway provides a physiological advantage with a high rate of photosynthesis, making it suitable for challenging climates. The main species considered for grain production are Amaranthus hypochondriacus, A. cruentus, and A. caudatus.
In various Indian languages, it is known as “rajgira” (king of seeds) in Gujarati, “ramdana” (seed sent by god) in Bihar, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh, “Chuka” in Bengal, “Kalaghesa,” “chumera,” and “ganhar” in central India, and “Bathu” in Himachal Pradesh.
Amaranth stands out with its impressive nutrient profile, particularly as a protein powerhouse among pseudocereals. With 14% protein, it offers nearly double the amount found in rice and corn. As a complete protein, it contains all nine essential amino acids. Researchers in Guatemala have hailed it as one of the most nutritious plant-based proteins.
Amaranth’s benefits extend to containing lunasin, a peptide believed to have anti-inflammatory and cancer-preventive properties. Moreover, whole-grain amaranth provides a good source of protein, fiber, iron, selenium, and pyridoxine (B6). It is also an excellent source of magnesium and phosphorus, and a significant contributor to daily manganese requirements, vital for protein and macronutrient metabolism. For those with celiac disease, amaranth serves as an excellent gluten-free grain option.
Health Benefits of Amarnath
Eating amaranth offers an array of health benefits due to its exceptional nutritional profile. Here are five compelling reasons to include amaranth in your diet:
- High-quality Protein: Amaranth is a complete protein source, containing all nine essential amino acids. This makes it an excellent choice for vegetarians and vegans looking to meet their protein needs. The high protein content in amaranth helps in tissue repair, muscle building, and overall growth.
- Rich in Nutrients: Amaranth is packed with essential vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and B vitamins like pyridoxine (B6). These nutrients play vital roles in supporting bone health, energy metabolism, and overall well-being.
- Gluten-Free Option: For individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, amaranth is a safe and nutritious alternative to wheat and other gluten-containing grains. Its gluten-free nature allows those with dietary restrictions to enjoy a diverse range of meals.
- Health: Studies have shown that amaranth possesses anti-inflammatory properties and can help regulate cholesterol levels. The presence of bioactive peptides contributes to its blood pressure-lowering effects, promoting cardiovascular health.
- Antioxidant Properties: Amaranth is rich in antioxidants, which help combat harmful free radicals in the body. These antioxidants play a crucial role in protecting cells from oxidative stress and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
Amaranth offers a versatile range of nutritious and delicious dishes that can be easily incorporated into your meals. From wholesome one-pot meals to delectable desserts, here are five amaranth-based recipes to savour:
- Amaranth Khichdi: A hearty and nutritious one-pot meal combining amaranth grains, lentils, and vegetables. Sauté onions, ginger-garlic paste, and spices, add chopped veggies, soaked amaranth, and lentils. Pressure cook and serve hot with yoghurt or pickle.
- Amaranth Paratha: A tasty flatbread made with amaranth and wheat flour. Prepare a smooth dough with water, salt, and oil, and roll it into circles. Cook on a hot griddle and serve with yoghurt or pickle.
- Amaranth Upma: A flavorful breakfast dish with amaranth grains and veggies. Sauté mustard seeds, urad dal, and curry leaves, then add onions, green chillies, and grated ginger. Add chopped veggies and soaked amaranth, cook until tender, and garnish with coriander leaves.
- Amaranth Kheer: A creamy dessert made with amaranth grains, milk, and sugar. Soak amaranth grains and cook them in milk until tender and thickened. Add sugar, cardamom powder, and chopped nuts for a delightful treat.
- Amaranth Dosa: A gluten-free alternative to traditional rice dosa. Soak amaranth and urad dal, grind into a smooth batter, and ferment. Cook on a dosa tawa until golden brown and serve with chutney or sambar.
These amaranth recipes not only provide a burst of flavor but also offer a myriad of health benefits, making them a delightful addition to your culinary repertoire.
The article explores the historical significance and origins of amaranth, dating back thousands of years to ancient sites in Argentina and India. While its exact beginnings remain elusive, its influence in pre-European Central and South America is evident. Amaranth’s impressive nutrient profile, high-quality protein, and gluten-free nature make it a valuable addition to a healthy diet.
The article also highlights five health benefits of consuming amaranth, including its role in supporting heart health, providing antioxidants, and offering a range of essential nutrients. Moreover, it showcases various delicious and nutritious amaranth-based recipes, making it a versatile and enjoyable ingredient in the kitchen. Overall, amaranth emerges as a resilient and nutritious ancient grain that continues to captivate and benefit people across the globe.