Amaranth greens are plants can reach heights of over 2 meters tall with fleshy oval shaped leaves that are sometimes pointed at the tips. The Green variety produces a feathery lime green flower from its central stalk that is packed with seeds. Though the flower buds are edible, once they mature and become bushy they are not palatable and should be avoided.
The young leaves are slightly astringent when raw, but are nutty and mild, like spinach. Larger, more mature leaves are best for stewing or braising, similarly to a chard or beet green.
Amaranth is the commonly used name for any one of the 60 different species found in the Amaranthaceae family. The name comes from the Greek amarantos, “one that does not wither,” or “the never-fading”, alluding to the brilliant bushy flowers that retain color long after harvest.
Often regarded as a common weed, one variety is named “pigweed”, the plants are commercially cultivated for their edible seeds, leafy greens and decorative blooms. The plants are consumed as a green vegetable primarily in Asian cultures, where they are known as callaloo in the West Indies, chawli leaves in India, and cow pea leaves in Africa.
Amaranth leaves are nutritionally similar to beets, Swiss chard and spinach, but are genetically closer to their wild ancestors and offer a far superior source of carotene, iron, calcium, protein, vitamin C and trace elements.
Amaranth greens may be eaten raw or cooked. The younger leaves are mild and tender while the more mature plants are slightly fibrous and develop a bitter flavor. Select Amaranth leaves that have small thin stems and lack any flower buds. Although edible, the blossoms usually indicate that the leaves are past their prime for eating.
Add the greens to salads and soups or briefly sauté with oil similarly to spinach. Complimentary flavors include bacon, ham, poultry, anchovies, garlic, onion, sesame seeds, soy sauce, lemon, mushrooms, oregano, dill, cumin, goat cheese, parmesan, ricotta, mustard, walnuts and curries.
As a grain, Amaranth has a long and colorful history throughout Mexico and South America. It was a major food source for the Ancient Aztecs and was also used in their ceremonial religious practices. The grains were combined with honey and formed into the likeness of a deity, worshiped and then eaten in a communal feast. When the Spanish conquistadors attempted to convert the native populations to Christianity in the sixteenth century, they forbade such “heathen” festivals surrounding Amaranth and punished those in possession of it.
The 12 Health Benefits of Eating Amaranth Leaves
Amaranth leaves are back in food buzz. Once savored by the ancient Aztecs, Mayans and Incas in their staple diet, this gorgeous greens is witnessing a food renaissance recently.
Packed with antioxidants, protein, vitamins, calcium, carbohydrates, iron and minerals, health benefits of amaranth leaves are numerous. Read to know the reasons for including amaranth leaves into your daily diet.
- Provides energy: Highly packed with carbohydrates, proteins, vitamin K, folate, riboflavin, vitamin A, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, amaranth leaves boost energy in the body.
- Prevents electrolyte imbalance: Amaranth leaves are terrific source of manganese, iron, copper, calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus necessary for maintaining proper mineral balance in the body.
- Excellent gluten-free diet: Vegetarians with gluten-intolerance or those suffering from celiac diseases can meet daily recommended dose of protein from amaranth greens. Compared to other plant sources namely wheat, rye, rice and oats, Amaranth contains 30% more protein with complete set of amino acids.
- Improves digestion: High dietary fiber content (3 times that of wheat) in the greens improve digestive health and reduces constipation. It is easily digestible and good for both young ones and elders.
- Aids in weight management: Protein in the leaves help to reduce insulin levels in the blood and also release a hormone that lessen hunger pranks and prevent “binging catastrophe”.
- Reduces bad cholesterol: One of the key benefits of amaranth leaves is cholesterol-lowering ability. Being fibrous, this leafy vegetable is effective in reducing LDL levels in the blood and promotes weight loss. Presence of tocotrienols (a type of vitamin E) also aids in cholesterol-lowering activity.
- Good for anemic patients: Iron-rich (5 times that of wheat) red amaranth leaves promote coagulation and increase hemoglobin content and red blood cell counts.
- Decreases risk of cardiovascular disease: Amaranth leaves are an excellent dietary source of phytosterols that lowers blood pressure and prevents heart ailments including stroke.
- Fight-off cancer: Presence of lysine (an essential amino acid) along with vitamin E, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium and vitamin C helps to fight against free radicals responsible for aging and formation of malignant cells.
- Ayurvedic treatments: Juice extracted from fresh amaranth leaves are prescribed for treating diarrhea, and hemorrhage conditions.
- Stop hair loss and graying: Besides regular consumption, applying juice from the leaves prevent brittle hair falling. This wonderful cosmetic benefit of amaranth leaves also retards the onset of premature graying.
- Prevents calcium-deficiency ailments: Calcium present in amaranth leaves reduce risk of osteoporosis and other calcium deficiencies because it has twice the calcium as milk. Indeed good news for lactose-intolerants!
- Improves eyesight: Vitamin C found in the leaves contribute to towards healthy vision.
Seriously Asian: Amaranth Greens Recipe
Cultivated in Mexico thousands of years ago, both the leaves and seeds of amaranth are edible. The seeds, like that of quinoa, are high in protein and taste similar to true grains grown from grass seeds.
- 1 large bunch amaranth greens, about 6 to 8 ounces
- 3 cloves very fresh garlic, crush
- 3 tablespoons cooking oil or lard
- Salt to taste, about 1/4 teaspoon
Cut the amaranth greens into 2-inch segments, preserving the natural shape of the leaves whenever possible. For the thicker stalks, cut the stalks into 1/2 inch lengths.