Amaranth, in all its incarnations, should be a total culinary star but it is just now being understood here in Canada! It can be a delicious salad green or simply pigweed to be ripped from your garden. It can also be a fantastically nutritious grain or an ornamental that will grace planters and front beds with drooping brilliance.
Amaranth dates backs 8000 years at least when it was domesticated from the wild plants on several continents, primarily South America, and that’s likely why there are so many varieties and uses.
Traditionally cultivated only in hot climates such as India, China, South East Asia and Mexico, amaranth is being grown with increasing success in Canada and work is being done at both the University of Guelph’s Simcoe (leaf amaranth) and Vineland Research Stations (grain amaranth).
Amaranthus spp has a array of Latin names… A. tricolor, A. cruentus, A. dubius, A. gangeticus, A. hybridus, A. hypochondriacus, A. lividus, A. manogostanus, A. spinosus and A. viridis and it also has a dozen common aliases. Known under various misnomers as Callaloo, Calalbo, Tampala, Chinese Amaranth, Chinese Spinach, African Spinach and Indian Kale, it can also be a
pseudo-cereal that may be eaten (only after cooking) or even popped. Amaranth is a super-food! The leaves are a source of protein, pro-vitamin A, fibre and vitamin C; amaranth grain is very high in protein and is gluten-free.
Because it’s drought tolerant and adaptable to most environmental and soil conditions, consumers should expect amaranth to be soon coming to a salad or whole grain product near you!
With files from Simcoe Research Station publication “New Crops, Old Challenges: Tips and tricks for managing new crops!” and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
Image (top left) provided by Professor Glen Filson / image at right taken at Vineland Research Station by author.