Time for another edition of Meet the Plant. This time I’d like to introduce you to Amaranth:
Amaranth is an extremely nutritious vegetable crop native to both the old and the new world, though it was most famously cultivated by the Aztecs, who demanded tribute from their conquered domains in the form of Amaranth. As a matter of fact, the Aztecs were the first to pop the seeds of Amaranth, a discovery which they transferred to corn, inventing popcorn.
Amaranth is a great dual-use plant because you can eat both the seeds and the leaves, though some varieties are bred for larger seeds and others are bred for tastier leaves. Asian varieties like the one below tend to be leaf vegetable types:
Nutritionally, Amaranth is important because of its high protein content. In particular it contains high quantities of the amino acid lysine, which is a limiting factor in many high-starch diets. The leaves are also high in vitamins A and C, so they are capable of preventing scurvy (caused by C deficiency) and blindness (caused by A deficiency).
Despite its nutritional value, Amaranth has been overlooked by most agronomists for some time. It ceased being a staple in Mexico when the Spaniards outlawed it because of its use in indigenous religious rites. In Africa, colonists saw it as a weed, or at best a food fit only for the poor. Nevertheless Amaranth has the potential to make a comeback, and it’s one of the crops we emphasize at ECHO.
Here Elliot and Pat take Amaranth seed heads out of the solar dehydrator where they were drying them down for storage:
And here they are separating the seed from the chaff:
Elliot tries out a new-fangled winnowing machine:
The winnowing machine started to break, so we were stuck with good old fashioned wind winnowing. One of the challenges of Amaranth is that the seeds are very small, so processing it is a challenge. Nevertheless, we had a bucket of grain by the time we were done, plenty to pop and make porridge with.
For more information about Amaranth, check out ECHO’s Amaranth Technical Note.