Amaranth, Glossary and Terms, Meat, Fish, Fruit, Grocery Food Stores

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Amaranth is from the Greek for "never-fading flower" or "everlasting." It is an annual herb, and therefore not a true grain. It has broad leaves and large flower heads that produce thousands of tiny, protein-rich seeds. There are hundreds of varieties of amaranth. It is grown for its leaves-some varieties are good in salad, some are delicious steamed or stir-fried-and its somewhat peppery seeds. Amaranth can be cooked as a cereal. The seeds are very tiny-looking, a bit like caviar when cooked, and their lack of substance makes them rather unsatisfactory as the base of pilaf-type dishes. Amaranth is most often ground into flour, which has a fairly strong malt-like vegetable taste and is beige in color. It is the only known food that contains between 75% and 87% of total human nutritional requirements.
Amaranth is used in several cultures in very interesting ways, In Mexico, it is popped and mixed with a sugar solution to make a candy called alegria and the roasted seed is used to create a traditional Mexican drink called atole. People from Peru use fermented amaranth seeds to make chichi (beer). During the carnival festival, women dancers often use the red amaranth flower as rouge, painting their cheeks, and then dancing while carrying bundles of amaranth on their backs.
History: There is evidence that it has been in Central and South America for nearly 8,000 years. Amaranth was a staple in the diet of pre-Columbian Aztecs. Aztec Indians in Mexico grew it alongside maize as the main ingredient in their diets. They thought that it gave them supernatural powers and incorporated it into their religious ceremonies. On religious holidays, Aztec women ground the seed, mixed it with honey or human blood, then shaped it into idols that were eaten ceremoniously, a practice that appalled the conquistadors. After conquering Montezuma in 1519, the Spanish missionaries forbade its use because of its association with human sacrifice.
In ancient Greece, amaranth was considered sacred and was used to decorate tombs and images of gods as a symbol of immortality. The early Christian Church also adopted the amaranth as a symbol of immortality.
By the middle the 20th century, the cultivation of this grain had declined to the point where it was grown only in small plots in Mexico, the Andean highlands, and in the Himalayan foothills of India and Nepal. It was used to make tortillas even before the cultivation of corn. It remained in obscurity until the 1950's when its nutritional values were again recognized through scientific development.

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