Amaranth is a pseudo-cereal native to Mexico, that has the highest protein content of any grain. It also known to be high in fibre, potassium, iron, zinc, as well as Vitamins A and D. According to studies reported by NGO Puente a la Salud Comunitaria, if combined with corn (a large part of a Mexican diet) it forms a complete protein.
For me, the history behind the grain is especially interesting. It would seem that Amaranth played a major role in the diet of the Aztecs, since back then they were producing as much as 20,000 tons a year, where as now the figure lies at about 3,000 tons. There are two theories about the possible eradication of amaranth cultivations after the arrival of the Spanish.
One theory is that the Spanish eradicated it due to its ritual use for the Aztecs. Amaranth is red in color and Aztec women would mix it with honey or human blood and fashion it into forms of animals and gods. These figures were then eaten at ceremonial feasts. It is believed that the Spanish may have found this ritual so despicable and contra to Catholic beliefs that they prohibited cultivation.
Another more sinister theory is that the Spanish saw the nutritional importance of the crop and eradicated as a way of limited the strength of the native people of Mexico, making them easier to overpower.
Whichever it may be, it is clear that Mexico’s production of this highly nutritious crop is sadly very low. However, due to a number of initiatives like that of Puente a la Salud Comunitaria, an NGO in Oaxaca working towards the promotion of the cultivation, consumption and commercialization of the crop, farmers are starting to introduce amaranth into their production cycle.
Meanwhile, Amaranth is inexpensive in Mexico and provides a great gluten free option for cookies and breads and granolas.
I have enjoyed incorporating amaranth into my diet and I thought I would share this little recipe with you.
Amaranth and Peanut Butter Cookies (Wheat and Sugar free)
150g Peanut butter
4 tbsp. Honey
1 tsp. Vanilla Essence
1 tsp. Baking Soda
250g Amaranth Flour
A pinch of salt
I made my amaranth flour by grinding popped amaranth in a food processor until it turned into a fine flour.
Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees F/ 175 degrees C/ Gas mark 4.
Mix together all the wet ingredients with a wooden spoon until they are completely combined, then using a sieve, fold in the dry ingredients little by little until you get a thick dough like consistency. Depending on how oily the peanut butter is you may need to add a little more flour at this point.
Roll the dough into small balls and flatten down onto a greased baking tray. Pop in the oven and bake for 10-15 mins. They may still be slightly soft when you remove them from the oven, but they will harden as they cool.
Dust the cookie with a tiny sprinkling of amaranth flour and serve.
They are a fantastic dunking cookie and they taste great with a Mexican hot chocolate or a milky tea or coffee. Enjoy!
Susannah Rigg is a freelance writer and Mexico specialist. Her work has been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, CNN Travel, BBC Travel, The Independent UK, Afar and The New Worlder among others. Check out her portfolio here. Contact Susannah by email, info [at] mexicoretold [dot] com and join her on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.