Looking to mix up your grain game? Popular options like quinoa, buckwheat, and millet are great, but there’s always room for more delicious variety. That’s why we think you’ll be happy to learn about amaranth and all the benefits of the ancient ingredient.
You may not be familiar with this grain, but it’s yummy flavor and health perks date back thousands of years. In fact, according to the Whole Grains Council, Aztecs actually referred to amaranth as the “food of immortality.” They describe the flavor as peppery yet “pleasantly sweet” with a “grassy aroma.”
The council also claims the seeds were originally found in Argentina before moving north through Mexico and then migrating to areas in Europe and Asia. Today, it can be found growing all over the world — even in your own backyard if you get your hands on some seeds ($7.35, Amazon). The council describes the plant as able to “adapt to a wide range of growing conditions and do well in a variety of elevations.” The vibrant magenta blooms will add some beautiful color to your garden before they start to brown and it’s time to harvest.
But even if you don’t want to grow amaranth yourself, you still might want to grab a bag of the grain from the health food aisle of your grocery store or online ($12.99, Walmart). Let’s start with a simple breakdown of the nutrition packed into one cup of the petite grains: 9 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, 116 milligrams of calcium, 5 milligrams of iron, 150 milligrams of magnesium, 332 milligrams of potassium, and 13.5 micrograms of selenium.
That impressive amount of protein gets even better thanks to it being a complete protein, meaning it includes all nine essential amino acids. Along with that, the high fiber content makes it a beneficial addition for anyone looking to shed a few pounds thanks to the nutrient’s digestive and gut-healing properties. Plus: It’s gluten-free!
The Whole Grains Council also notes the protein contains a peptide called lunasin, which appears to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. A 2014 study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research backs up the anti-inflammatory findings with their 2014 study which discovered amaranth prevented the activation of NK-kB (a group of genes that trigger inflammatory and immune responses). Although inflammation is our body’s natural response to damaged or harmful cells, anyone with chronic inflammation issues might find some relief by chowing down adding amaranth to their regular diet.
An earlier study from 2012 in the Journal of Food Science listed a few more benefits you can likely count on from amaranth that have been observed over the years, including lower cholesterol and blood sugar and improved hypertension. It also boosts the immune system, and can even ward off allergic reactions. That’s a lot for such a tiny grain!
So, by now you’re probably wondering how to cook amaranth. Well, you can use it in the same way you would any other grain. The Whole Grains Counsel recommends combining a cup of the dried grain with two cups of liquid (water or your favorite broth) and letting it boil for about 15 to 20 minutes. They compare the texture to that of porridge and polenta. Then toss pretty much anything on top — veggies, fish, meat, or even use it for a sweeter treat with ingredients like chocolate and cinnamon. It’s so versatile!
Give it a try the next time you’re in the mood for a grain bowl and enjoy all the scrumptious benefits.
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This article originally appeared on our sister site, WomansWorld.com.