Amaranth greens are also called Chinese spinach. Amaranthus is collectively known as amaranth or pigweed. This is a cosmopolitan genus of herbs. Although several species are often considered weeds, people around the world value amaranths as leafy vegetables, cereals and ornamentals. The word is derived from the Greek ‘Amarantos’ – which means –“the one that does not wither” or the never-fading flower.
These species are cultivated and consumed as a leaf vegetable in many parts of the world. There are 4 species of Amaranthus cultivated as vegetables in eastern Asia: Amaranthus cruentus, Amaranthus bllitum, Amaranthus dubius and Amaranthus tricolor.
In Tamil Nadu, it is regularly consumed as a favourite dish, where the greens are steamed, mashed and seasoned with salt, red chillies and cumin. This preparation is called keerai masial. In Karnataka it is used to make Hulli Playa, Maggigayhulli and so on. In Andhra Pradesh this leaf is added in the preparation of a popular dal called thotakura pappu. The leaf amaranth is called ‘bayam’ in Indonesia and Malaysia and in China these leaves and stems are used as a stir-fry vegetable and called yin choi.
- This is a traditional food plant in Africa. This vegetable has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, and foster rural development and support sustainable land care.
- This inexpensive crop is cultivated for reasons that they are easily harvested, they produce lot of fruits, and thus seeds, which are used as grains, and they contain large amounts of protein and essential amino acids.
- This species of vegetable are reported to have a 30% higher protein value than cereals, such as rice, wheat flour, oats and rye.
- Besides protein the amaranth grain provides a good source of dietary fibre and dietary minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorous, copper and especially manganese.
- It is even believed to be beneficial to prevent the premature greying of hair follicles.
- They are also a good source of vitamins, riboflavin, calcium and folate.
- However their moderately high content of oxalic acid inhibits the absorption of calcium and zinc, and also means that they should be avoided or eaten in moderation by people with kidney disorders, gout, or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Reheating cooked amaranth greens is often discouraged, particularly for consumption by small children, as the nitrates in the leaves can be converted to nitrites, similarly to spinach.
- Amaranth seeds, like buckwheat and quinoa, contain protein that is unusually complete for plant sources. Most fruits and vegetables do not contain a complete set of amino acids, and thus different sources of protein must be used.
- Amaranth seed or oil may be of benefit for those with hypertension and cardiovascular disease; regular consumption reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while improving antioxidant status and some immune parameters.
Although amaranth was (and still is) cultivated on a small scale in parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, India, and Nepal, there is potential for further cultivation in the U.S and tropical countries and it is often referred to as “the crop of the future”.