Red Amaranth

Other names: Red spinach, Chinese, Een choy, Hsien

General Information: The amaranth plant grows as high as 7 feet or taller with a celery-like stalk that tastes somewhat like an artichoke. Its leaves have a taste similar to spinach, but are much sweeter. The head of the amaranth plant sprouts crimson red flowers with seed heads that resemble bushy versions of corn tassels. One plant may produce as many as half a million seeds. Amaranth is usually grown as a secondary crop in many areas of the world such as Asia with most of the production in the United States limited to Nebraska, Colorado, and Minnesota. Amaranth is generally available as either a red amaranth variety (such as red saag, red spinach, all red amaranth, or red leaf amaranth) or a green amaranth (such as green pointed leaf, white leaf, bayan, tender leaf, or green round leaf).

The red variety of the herb has broad green leaves with crimson colored veins or deep red leaves, while the green variety has broad leaves that are entirely dark or light green in color.

Applications: Fresh amaranth greens are common ingredients in a variety of Asian food dishes. Chinese foods typically use the red-leafed variety while the cuisines of India, Japan and Taiwan prefer the lighter green Amaranth. Amaranth greens, which can be served as a good substitute for spinach, will last several days but are best if prepared immediately after being harvested. To prepare, wash the greens thoroughly, then slice off the older woodier stems using only the younger tender stems and leaves with a mild spinach flavor for salads. Stems and leaves that may be more mature can be used in stir-fry dishes, soups and steamed dishes with noodles. The older amaranth greens provide a sharper and tangier flavor due to age. To store, place the stems with leaves in a plastic bag and refrigerate.

The leaves of the amaranth plant taste much like spinach and are used in the same manner that spinach is used. They are best if consumed when the plant is young and tender.

History: The name amaranth hails from the Greek for "never-fading flower." The plant is an annual herb, not a "true" grain and is a relative of pigweed, a common wild plant also known as lamb�s-quarters, as well as the garden plant we know as Cockscomb. There are approximately 60 species of amaranth and there is no definite distinction between amaranth grown for the leaf (vegetable), and the seed (grain).

Amaranth (Amaranthus) has a colorful history, is highly nutritious, and the plant itself is extremely attractive and useful. Amaranth was a staple in the diets of pre-Columbian Aztecs, who believed it had supernatural powers and incorporated it into their religious ceremonies. Before the Spanish conquest in 1519, amaranth was associated with human sacrifice and the Aztec women made a mixture of ground amaranth seed, honey or human blood then shaped this mixture into idols that were eaten ceremoniously. This practice appalled the conquistadors who reasoned that eliminating the amaranth would also eliminate the sacrifices. The grain was forbidden by the Spanish, and consequently fell into obscurity for hundreds of years. If not for the fact that the cultivation of amaranth continued in a few remote areas of the Andes and Mexico, it may have become extinct and completely lost to us.

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