When venturing into the unfamiliar world of gluten-free & corn-free for my son's specific menu needs, we stumbled into Amaranth along the way. The most popular & common gluten-free grain seems to be rice, which isn't very nutrient dense. With how limited his menu is right now, each ingredient we add needs to pack a powerful punch. Trying to bake or cook with rice flour is just not satisfying. Most rice flours, if used as stand-alone, leave baked goods with a gritty texture with the exception of superfine white rice, that I guess is an acquired one. And rice usually cannot successfully be used as a stand-alone substitute in recipes. Most gluten-free recipes do better when mixing 2-3 different flours together, which aids in less dryness & crumbliness. Other grains/pseudo-grains like Amaranth & Quinoa can stand-alone in some recipes & are interchangeable. So, we were over the moon to find Amaranth.
Amaranth was a staple of the Aztec Indians, so it's been around for some time. Why don't we know more about it? It usually takes needing a special menu to find this treasure grain.
Dairy & casein-free dieters take note here, too. Amaranth is high in fiber & protein, contains many beneficial nutrients especially minerals including; calcium, magnesium, iron and is low in fat. It also packs a punch with amino acids, including lysine. The combo of amino acids is rated to be higher than cow's milk! Amaranth is a good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids (as are most whole grains) and it contains vitamin E in similar amounts to olive oil. It is also an excellent thickener for soups, sauces, etc... How's that for a diet substitute? And let's not forget, it is gluten-free.
Amaranth is available at natural food stores & online in both the whole grain & flour. It can also be found as an ingredient in packaged items like cereals & cookies. Make sure to still read ingredient labels thoroughly. Just because the product has amaranth does not mean it's gluten or corn free. We've found that purchasing the whole grain is much more affordable. To get flour we use a basic coffee grinder & make our own. It's best stored in the fridge or freezer to extend shelf life & to avoid it getting bitter. It has a mild, nutty flavor that gets stronger as it ages.
Allergy-sensitive: Amaranth is related to pigweed & a common weed called "careless-weed". If you have Oral Allergy Syndrome or are allergic to the careless-weed pollen, you may have trouble eating amaranth when the weed is in bloom during late summer.
GI issues: With my son's allergies, intolerances & a metabolic issue, he does not tolerate the whole grain Amaranth, but does okay with it in flour form. The whole grain moved his constitution too quickly. Word to the wise - until you know how it's going to affect the body, plan on staying close to home for several hours after ingestion. And as always with new food introduction take it slowly.
Update 3/2014: We've gotten away from using amaranth & are about to embark on a new trial for both kids. Over the last few years what we've learned about the pervasiveness of corn cross-contamination makes us much more selective of sourcing safe foods. We've also learned with our youngest the benefit of soaking & thoroughly rinsing grains before ingesting to increase tolerance.
IF this trial is a success, I'm hoping that we'll see the added benefit of it's nutrient content aiding in the constant need to monitor & adjust foods for the kids constitutions.