Amaranth gets its name from a Greek word that means “the never-fading” or “one that does not wither.” In India, it is popular as Rajgira or Ramdana which loosely translates to food of the God. This gluten free grain grows without need of much water , sunshine or chemical fertilizers and hence is naturally organic. Although amaranth is not a grain , it is a green leafy vegetable whose seeds are also edible, the nutritional profile of the seed is similar to that of cereal grains.
Rajgira is a very robust grain and its called never-ending or immortal due to its ability to grow and flourish in the harshest of conditions.
- Can be grown with very little water; even with upto 40 days of no rain , it can generate seeds
- It can tolerate drought conditions
- It can thrive even in too much sun
- It can grow in very cold climates including frost
Amaranth was cultivated by Aztecs 6000-8000 years ago and was a staple food along with having deep religious value attached. The grain was worshipped and distributed as religious offering. During invasion by the Spanish , in order to force Christianity, this religious grain was outlawed and nearly wiped out from that region. It was later rediscovered in Mexico with descendants of Aztecs.
This grain was believed to bestow humans with supernatural powers!
In Asia, amaranth seems to have arrived 500 years ago due to trade routes established with Africa. In the 1700’s, the pale-seeded amaranth was cultivated throughout India and Sri Lanka and at least 3 types of amaranth originated in Asia. Amaranth grows everywhere in our country – from Himalayas, the plains of North, Central and South India and coastlines of East, West and South . In Andhra Pradesh, it is available throughout the year and goes by the name :Thotakura
Nutritional benefits of Amaranth
Proteins: Amaranth is considered one of the best sources of plant proteins. It contains the amino acid lysine also which is limiting in most cereals. This makes it a source of complete protein which are more bioavailable and essential for body tissue wear and tear
Calcium: Amaranth contains abundant calcium . So including amaranth seeds in the form of chikki or just as popped grains is very beneficial for maintaining good bone health especially in kids and elderly
Hair: The amino acids lysine and cysteine present in amaranth helps in maintaining thick and strong hair.
Iron: Rajgira is a good source of iron and hence can be used to treat low hemoglobin levels especially in vegetarians.
Cholesterol: Amaranth seeds contain oils rich in phytosterols which are beneficial in lowering cholesterol.
Disease risk: Amaranth contains antioxidative and anti-inflammatory activities due to presence of hydrophilic (e.g. phenolics, betacyanins) and lipophilic (e.g. fatty acids, tocopherols, and carotenoids) nutrients conferring potential health benefits, especially in lowering the risk of the oxidative stress related diseases e.g. cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
How to cook amaranth seeds?
Amaranth can be cooked easily and goes well with most vegetables. For every 1 cup of amaranth you may take 6 cups of water.Boil the water first, the add the washed grains. Boil together with occasional stirring for upto 20 minutes. Once cooked (soft on the inside crunchy on outside), you can drain the water and spread it onto a plate to dry off a bit before using it in salads. These seeds can be cooked like dalia with vegetables .
This indigenous crop has not received the attention it should due to poor knowledge and awareness in the current population influenced by western dietary patterns.
There are plenty of reasons to incorporate the leaves as well as seeds of amaranth in daily diets to gain more strength and immunity.