There is a lot of talk about quinoa these days, which is imported all the way from South America. Yes, it is a nutritious grain but is it worth spending Rs 700 for half a kg, when we have a grain which is equally nutritious and is grown all over our country and costs only Rs 90 for the same weight?
This blog will focus on amaranth, which also originated in Latin America and travelled to our country probably through Tibet/Nepal centuries back. Currently, it is grown from the high slopes of the Himalayas to the coastlines of our country. There are many varieties of amaranth and the Himalayas are seen as a hub for the numerous varieties that exist. If you have trekked in the Himalayas in the summer/fall it is hard to miss this plant with its bright purple-pink hues.
Known as Ramdhana literally meaning, god’s grain, this is actually not a grain but a seed or a pseudo cereal. The other common name for amaranth is rajgira (royal grain), and in Tamil it is known as keeravidai. It is consumed more in the north, especially during fasts. Probably the health benefits of this wonder seed was well known to our ancestors and we are rediscovering the same now.
This grain is typically cooked as porridge or popped and made into laddus or chikkis. It is given as a nutritious snack in the mid-day meal schemes in some parts of the country. It can also be ground to a flour and incorporated along with regular aata to make rotis/parathas.
So what is special about amaranth?
Traditionally Indian diets have always prescribed a cereal pulse combination, rice-dal, chapatti- dal – the reason being cereals and pulse complement each other in terms of their protein profile. Amaranth can be seen as a natural mix of cereal and pulse and it has all the amino acids, hence a complete protein. Protein profile of quinoa is similar to amaranth. Amaranth is rich in minerals — calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium- in fact slightly higher than quinoa! The dietary fibre content of both the seeds is similar. Both seeds provide B vitamins some being higher in amaranth and some in quinoa. But overall there is no additional benefit you get from eating imported quinoa!
Last and not the least amaranth is a gluten free seed, a blessing for children who cannot tolerate wheat.