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Amaranth

You might think of amaranth as the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the vegetable world. From the way different people look at it, it seems to have a hugely split personality. For some it's a hero. For others, it's a villain.

Amaranth gets around quite easily on its own and it grows like a weed. You can find it growing all sorts of places. It doesn't need much help from us.

So when some people have it show up in their gardens, they think "I don't want this plant here! Who invited this?!" They pull it out and throw it away.

But others — like yours truly — actually go out of their way to plant amaranth in their gardens. They see amaranth, not as some enemy invader, but as a Super Food. They see it as a very rich source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and important amino acids. They also find it to be pretty tasty.

Origins

Humans and amaranth have had a close cozy relationship since before the beginnings of agriculture. Before we ever thought of growing gardens, our hunter-gatherer ancestors picked and ate wild amaranth's leaves and seeds as they moved from one locale to another.

Farmers started growing amaranth as a crop about 5,000 years ago. In many parts of the world, however, it is still picked wild.

In Central America, the ancient Aztecs thought amaranth had magical powers. They thought it provided hunters and long distance runners with superhuman levels of energy.

For the last 2,500 years, going all the way back to Aesop's fables, poets and storytellers have praised amaranth as a source of enduring beauty and strength.

It's only in the last two decades, however, that a world-wide effort has taken place to push amaranth forward, especially its seeds, as a more general-purpose, high-energy grain.

How it's eaten

Amaranth's leaves are eaten as salad greens. They are full of nutritional goodies and add a nice splash of color to a salad.

Amaranth's seeds are eaten in several different ways. They can be added to soups, where they take on a slightly sweet, nutty flavor. They can be boiled and acquire a sticky texture like rice. Boiled amaratha can be used as a stuffing for vegetables like bell beppers and eggplant.

Finally, amaratha can be popped like popcorn. In Mexico, amaranth puffs are mixed with honey to make a kind of candycorn called "happiness" or alegria.