The Superfood for Preppers
In the world of prepping and survival, finding the hidden gems of nature that can sustain us in times of need is essential. The best ones, in my opinion, grow in plain sight, but most people would walk right by them, failing to understand that they are entirely edible and super nutritious. We previously featured three different plants like that–the Sunchoke, Purslane, and the Sunflower. We have even made flour out of the pith from the stalk. Today’s overlooked super-food plant is Amaranth. This plant has it all. It’s loaded with protein, and it’s a complete protein, meaning it has the nine essential amino acids that our bodies can’t produce. This might be the best superfood you could be growing. Better than all the rest. Let me tell you about this hidden gem of a super-food.
ANALYZING THE PLANT
Amaranth grows in the wild and worldwide in hardiness zones one through thirteen and will return on its own year after year. Ancient cultures from the Incas and Aztecs to the Hopi, Nepalese, and West Africans have survived on this grain for countless millennia. It requires almost no maintenance, so you can quickly grow and harvest a wild patch or dedicate a space in your garden to it. I will tell you everything you need to know about this plant and even give you a recipe so you can get it in your diet today and start reaping the nutritional benefits of it.
Amaranth is entirely edible and has been grown and eaten worldwide for longer than recorded history. Amaranth is a resilient plant that can adapt to various soil types and climates. You can cultivate amaranth whether you have a sprawling garden or a small balcony. The young leaves can be harvested and eaten as a salad, steamed, stir-fried, mixed with eggs, or used anywhere you use spinach. They taste similar to spinach with their mild earthiness and leafy taste. Sixty grams, about two cups, of the uncooked leaves contains 1.5 grams protein, 129 mg of Calcium, and 367mg of Potassium. These are vital nutrients your body needs and prefers in a natural form.
The flower heads vary and are shaped in long, upright, or drooping spikes. The genus Amaranthus has hundreds of species so the flower can range from green through yellows, golds, and oranges, and even to deep crimson reds and maroon purples. One variety, commonly called Hopi Red Dye Amaranth, was harvested by the indigenous tribe of the same name and became their signature color. Its deep red to maroon-colored leaves and stems became a part of their dyeing process.
These flower heads are the source of the real nutrition, the grain. Technically, it isn’t a grain. Amaranth is a “pseudo-cereal” rather than an actual grain because it is not a member of the grass family (Poaceae), which includes wheat, rice, and oats. Instead, amaranth belongs to the family Amaranthaceae and is botanically classified as a pseudocereal because its seeds are used similarly to actual cereal grains in cooking and nutrition.
The stalks grow to between 2 and 8 feet tall and are a good form of biomass. When dried, they quickly burn or can be converted to charcoal. They can be broken up into more of a mulch to add nutrients to and aerate the soil. They are fibrous and can be used to make charcoal. The seeds will be harvestable at around 90-120 days after planting.
The seeds are where the real nutrition is stored. Individually, they are smaller than their similar cousin, quinoa. If foraging, it’s important to note that there are thousands of species within the Amaranthus genus, and some Amaranth species may have non-edible or even toxic parts. That’s another reason to grow your own, starting from a trusted seed source or to forage from known and easily identifiable varieties.
I was able to thresh out 40 grams of grain from one plant, which I’ll show you how to do in a moment, but that 40 grams of seeds contains 26 grams of carbohydrates and 5.4 grams of protein, the kind with all of those essential amino acids your body doesn’t produce. That amount also includes 64 mg of calcium, 9.2 mg of Magnesium, 1.33 mg of Manganese, 222.8 mg of phosphorus, and 203 mg of Potassium. Look at all these trace minerals and amino acids in this food. It’s definitely one of the most nutritious foods we have ever covered. Adding it to your diet today will provide you with many vitamins and minerals missing from modern diets.
One thing to note about Amaranth is that you don’t have to worry about over-foraging it. So many seeds are in a flower head that simply harvesting them reseeds the patch for the following year. Believe me, one patch provides enough food for you and every other bird and critter in the vicinity.
The way to tell if the seeds are ready to harvest is to take the flower head in the palm of your hand and squeeze it. If it’s ready for harvesting, you will see several seeds in your hand. I wait until I can clearly see a dozen or more to ensure they are ready. At that point, you can clip the spindly flower heads and place them in a paper bag to cure in a dry place. Don’t harvest within two days of rain because the heads will be too moist to cure properly and could mold instead.
After having grown this superfood for multiple years, I usually let the paper bag sit in my warm garage for a few days until I can get to it. On a tinfoil-lined cookie sheet, I dry the heads on the lowest setting of my oven, which, in my case, is 170. I let the oven get to temperature, wait a few minutes, then turn it off. Repeating this process a few times will dry the heads out over several hours and kill any tiny bugs that may have still been on the flower heads.
Once thoroughly dehydrated, the hard part comes in. You need to separate all the flowers from the stems using your hands. Running them through your fingers, you will continue to break down the flowers from the seeds. Keep doing this until all the flowers are broken up. Not to get too technical, but you are separating the seeds from the parts of the tiny flower–the bristly perianth, operculum, and point bracts. I have seen other methods using a fan or blowing lightly as you drop the grains that will give you a purer finished grain. The ancient way is to repeatedly toss it in the air over a cloth or tarp, allowing the breeze to blow away these lighter parts and the grain to fall. My method is easier, but I will leave some of these parts of the flowers behind. To me, that’s fine, and if you are grinding it into gluten-free flour, as many people do, it won’t matter anyway.
Having tried the fan method of winnowing, where a fan or strong breeze blows across the grain you toss up so the grain falls and the parts of the hull or flower blow away, I will admit I’m not too good at it, especially with these super light grains. It makes a considerable mess, but it’s probably more practical if you harvest a field or large patch of amaranth. If you have a decent breeze, pour your harvest between two bowls, and the lighter non-seed parts will blow away.
I use a wire mesh strainer over a bowl, pour the mix between bowls, and gently swirl the filter. You can use a spatula to break the flowers up even further and liberate the seeds. I even put them in a baggie and use a rolling pin to break them up. Larger pieces can be strained out by bouncing the strainer. Smaller pieces collect in the strainer with this swirling technique. If you dump the remnants and continue to thresh them in this manner, you can pull most of the seeds out. These mesh strainers are available for a few dollars online and at kitchen stores, and you just have to find a relatively small mesh size to get the filtering you need. These mesh strainers are very practical and useful in the kitchen, so I highly recommend them.
You can throw the scraps back into nature along with the rest of the plant’s biomass and have a new patch of amaranth to harvest next year. From the one large plant I harvested, I obtained 40 grams of amaranth which was considerably less than I got from a different variety last year. This year’s plant was huge, and my soil wasn’t very deep in this area, so I had to prop the stalk up to keep it from falling over. This plant was also a volunteer from last year’s plant. I didn’t directly plant it, but harvesting last year sowed the seeds for this year’s plant. I just let it grow.
These seeds are sproutable as microgreens, and the red variety is very popular with chefs as an edible garnishment and finishing touch to many dishes. They are also a nutritional powerhouse. Amaranth seeds are rich in healthy oils and can be cold pressed for a consumable and hydrating topical oil if you have the right equipment. The oil is loaded with Omega 6s and 9s. It has a unique combination not found in nature of these unsaturated fatty acids, squalene and vitamin E. Squalene is a compound that helps to oxygenate cells. The world’s most common source of this critical antioxidant is currently shark livers. Olive oil has .7% of it, whereas Amaranth oil has an incredible 8%– 1,042% more. Studies show that amaranth oil can fight cancer growth, reduce damaged liver tissue, improve skin conditions, and stimulate immune responses. Extracting the oil is a bit out of my scope, though.
Another widespread and more common use is to grind the seeds into fine flour. Pound for pound, it’s phenomenally more nutritious than wheat flour, and it is gluten-free. Amaranth flour is considered one of the best for people with diabetes because it is low in carbohydrates and helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels. It’s a source of vitamin C, which is vital to the body’s healing process because it helps process iron, which it’s also a good source of, to form blood vessels, repair muscle tissue, and maintain collagen.
You can add the crunchy seeds, as is, into trail mixes or granola bars. Or, simply soften the seeds in boiling water to make a nutrient-dense porridge, but my preferred way to eat this nutritional powerhouse is in a salad called tabbouleh. (TAH-BOO-LEE). I’ll link this recipe in the comments below, or you can go directly there at cityprepping.com/amaranth. This refreshing Middle Eastern salad, renowned for its vibrant flavors and healthy ingredients, has thousands of variations. Typically, this classic dish features a base of finely chopped fresh parsley and mint mixed with a cooked grain like bulgur wheat, quinoa, or, in our case, amaranth. This zesty and herbaceous salad is bursting with Mediterranean flavors.
For this recipe, I will add a cup and a half of boiling water to my cup or 40 grams of grain, cover, and set that aside. The thing about tabbouleh is you don’t have to measure any of the ingredients. No two salads are the same. I loosely measure some of them here to give you a baseline. I will then chop up a big handful of mint and a handful of parsley. Chop these ingredients until they are in tiny minced pieces. I am then going to chop in 60 grams of amaranth leaves. Unless you are growing amaranth or have access to an Asian market that carries them fresh, you may not have these to add. That’s alright; you can substitute spinach or simply omit it.
To this minced-up mix of leaves, I will juice one medium-sized lemon, the equivalent of about three tablespoons of lemon juice. I will chop up a small bunch of green onions, dice two medium-sized tomatoes, about half of a red onion diced, about a dozen kalamata olives, a little bit of sweet red pepper, and one finely minced garlic clove. When the amaranth has softened, remove it to the salad with a slotted spoon or, more efficiently, with your wire mesh strainer. The soaked grains will not pass through it now. Add it to your salad and stir until all ingredients are incorporated. I always add a pinch of salt, a little black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil to my salad. Other additions to your salad include cucumber, pine nuts, green olives, sweet peppers, hot peppers, chickpeas, pomegranate seeds, and even radishes finely diced for a little kick. I don’t typically make it this way, but I cubed a small chunk of feta cheese for extra flavor, tang, and saltiness.
You can eat it immediately, but I find it’s even better the second and subsequent days as the flavors meld together and the amaranth softens even further. This salad is probably the healthiest thing you can eat and is incredibly simple to make.
When you think of a food you truly could survive on that most people wouldn’t even recognize in the wild, think of amaranth. It’s easy to grow and process, more nutrient-dense than most foods on the planet, and can be prepared simply by soaking it in warm or hot water. In a survival situation, amaranth becomes even more valuable. Its seeds are tiny powerhouses of energy packed with essential nutrients that can keep you going when other resources may be scarce. Start an amaranth patch in your yard and enjoy the towering stalks of giant varieties or the bushy foliage of the smaller, colorful versions. Eat the leaves and the seeds each season and watch it come back year after year. It’s the type of food that civilizations have survived on for countless millennia, so you can, too.
As always, stay safe out there.
Visit cityprepping.com/amaranth for the complete recipe.
Amaranth Seeds: https://bit.ly/3ESeEDd
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- 1 ½ cups water
- ½ cup (equivalent: 40 grams) uncooked whole-grain amaranth
- 1 cup (equivalent: 60 grams, optional substitute: spinach) Amaranth leaves
- 1 bunch scallions
- ½ cup finely chopped red onion
- ½-1 cup chopped fresh mint
- ½-1 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 clove garlic finely minced
- 12-15 olives finely chopped
- 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2-3 tablespoons (equivalent: juice of one medium lemon) fresh lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup (4 ounces) feta cheese, crumbled
- Lemon wedges