Harnett County,
North Carolina

Cooperative Extension 

Is Amaranth more nutritious than traditional grains and can it be grown around here?

ASK THE HORT AGENT

Question Is Amaranth more nutritious than traditional grains and can it be grown around here?

Answer Amaranthus is the name of a genus that contains over 50 species of plants. The seeds of Amaranthus are more nutritious than traditional cereal grains like wheat, barley or oats. These seeds can be used any way cereal grains are used. They can be brewed into beer, popped like popcorn or baked like flour. Unlike cereal grains, Amaranthus does not contain gluten (people allergic to grain products are typically allergic to gluten). It also contains a better balance of amino acids and lysine. However, Amaranthus seeds are not grains. They are called pseudo-grains. This means they act like grains, but are not really grains.

If you ask, “Where has this super seed been hiding?”

I’d say, “Right under your nose.”

Around here, Amaranthus is known as “pigweed.” Some species have become resistant to RoundUp. These resistant varieties can produce up to 1 million seeds per plant. Therefore, farmers are really beginning to dislike this relatively aggressive weed. While their aggravation is understandable, species of this weed have potential to be the proverbial silk purse made from a sow’s ear.

The cultivation of Amaranthus is not new. Aztecs grew this plant over 6,000 years ago. It was as important to them as maize (corn). The conquistadors put the kibosh on Amaranthus. Historians think the Spanish wanted to make it go away because it was the most used plant in Aztec religious ceremonies. As in modern times, control religion and you control people.

Nowadays, Amaranthus is making a strong comeback. The leaves can be eaten like spinach (cooked or raw). The seeds can also be used to produce cooking oil. High nutritional and multiuse values have brought it attention in Africa, the Caribbean, India and China. http://africanagriculture.blogspot.com/2007/04/grain-amaranth-improves-food-security.html While some countries are using it to survive, Americans can purchase Amaranthus flour and oil at high dollar health food stores.

To top it off, many species of Amaranthus are even used as ornamental plants. http://www.ag.iastate.edu/centers/cad/amaranth.html Thomas Jefferson is believed to have planted them along his garden paths at Monticello.

For more info on this miracle plant/weed, visit http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1990/v1-127.html If you don’t have internet access, then call 910-893-7530 or email me gpierce@harnett.org

The title of a New York Times article read, “Ancient, Forgotten Plant Now ‘Grain of the Future’.” The future may not be so bright if we don’t change that name. Nobody wants to eat Captain Pigweed for breakfast or snack on a bucket of popped pigweed at the movies.

Gary L. Pierce

Horticulture Extension Agent

Harnett County

 
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