Amaranth greens are nutritious, edible leafy vegetables of Central American origin. Amaranth leaves and grains were one of the staple foods of Aztecs and Incas in pre-Columbian times. Presently, its growth is mainly concentrated in tropical climates of Latin Americas, Asia and Africa.
Botanically, amaranth belongs to the family of Amaranthaceae, in the genus; Amaranthus. Scientific name: A. dubius.
|Amaranth- Chinese spinach.|
Amaranth grows all around the world in the tropical and subtropical environments. Several cultivars of amaranth grown meant either for vegetable leaves or grain.
Botanically, amaranth species meant for its leaves are different from those grown for the purpose of grains (pseudocereals). Vegetable amaranths distinguished by features like short spike inflorescence, glossy, brownish-black seed, and indeterminate growth habit. A. tricolor and A. dubius are some of the important leafy-amaranths. Grain Amaranths are characterized by apical large inflorescence comprising aggregates of cymes and white or cream colored seeds. Grain Amaranths includes A. hypochondriacus, A. caudatus, A. cruentus, etc.
Amaratnh leaves are storehouse for many phytonutrients, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins which contribute immensely to health and wellness.
Its greens carry just 23 calories/100g. Amaranth leaves contain only traces of fats and no cholesterol.
The leaves and stems carry a good amount of soluble and insoluble dietary fibers. For the same reason, leafy greens including amaranth often recommended by dieticians in the cholesterol controlling and weight reduction programs.
Fresh 100 g of leaf amaranth contains 29% DRI of iron. Iron is an essential trace element required by the human body for red blood cell (RBC's) production and as a co-factor for the oxidation-reduction enzyme, cytochrome oxidase during the cellular metabolism.
Fresh amaranth leaves are one of the richest sources of vitamin-C. 100 g of fresh leaves carry 43.3 mg or 70% of recommended daily intake of this vitamin. Vitamin-C is a powerful water-soluble antioxidant which plays a vital role in wound healing and help fight against viral infections.
Amaranth has several vital antioxidant vitamins like vitamin-A (2917 IU or over 97% of daily recommended levels per 100 g) and flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin, and β-carotene. Together, these compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS), and thereby play a healing role in aging and various disease processes.
In addition, vitamin-A is essential for maintaining healthy mucosa and skin, and is essential factor for ocular (eye) health. Consumption of natural vegetables and fruits rich in vitamin-A and flavonoids are also known to help the body protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
Amaranth greens perhaps have the highest concentrations of vitamin-K of all the edible green-leafy vegetables. 100 g of fresh greens provides 1140 μg or 950% of daily vitamin-K requirements. Vitamin-K plays a vital role in strengthening the bone mass by promoting osteoblastic activity in the bone cells. Additionally, it also has an established role in patients with Alzheimer's disease by limiting neuronal damage in the brain.
Amaranth greens also contains ample amounts of B-complex vitamins such as folates, vitamin-B6 (pyridoxine), riboflavin, thiamin (vitamin B-1), and niacin. Folates rich diet help prevent neural tube defects in the newborns.
Moreover, its leaves carry more potassium than that of in the spinach. Potassium is an important component of the cell and body fluids that helps regulate heart rate and blood pressure.
Additionally, it has higher levels of other minerals than spinach such as calcium, manganese, magnesium, copper and zinc. The human body uses manganese and copper as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Copper is also required for the production of red blood cells. Zinc is a co-factor for many enzymes that regulate growth and development, digestion and nucleic acid synthesis.
In a way similar to other kinds of greens like spinach, kale, etc., amaranth in the diet helps prevent osteoporosis (weakness of bones), iron-deficiency anemia.
The grains used as pseudocereals like quinoa in Europe and USA, whereas leaf-varieties are cultivated mostly as leafy-vegetables in India, China and Africa. Thanks to the ongoing reaserch studies in the area of pseudocereals, amaranthus has rediscovered itself as a promising food crop fo its high nutritional value of seeds (grains) and leaves.
|Amaranthus dubius Note for deep green leaves.|
Amaranths are short seasonal annual crops. Its leaves are ready for harvesting in about 4-6 weeks after sowing the seed.
Leafy-vegetable amaranths grow well at day temperatures above 25 ℃ and night temperatures not lower than 15 ℃. Amaranths like fertile, free-drained alkaline soils.
In the tropics, amaranth greens available round the year. In the markets, buy fresh leaves packed in bunches featuring deep-green/variegated color, vitality, and crispiness. Avoid those with wilted leaves, yellow discoloration and spots. Also avoid greens that are too large and thick stemmed since they can be overtly bitter.
Once at home, wash amaranth vigorously in a bowl of cold water, swish thoroughly several times to rid off sand/dirt.
Amaranth wilt early and only stay fresh for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. So, use them fresh at the earliest in order to get maximum nutrition benefits.
To prepare, separate the leaves and thick stems, reserving the stems to cook separately which may take longer to cook. Wash leaves in cold water before using in cooking. Gently pat them dry using a tissue/soft cloth or swish few times in the air. Fresh leaves can be either chopped or used as they are in a variety of recipes. Extended cooking may result in loss of nutrients, particularly antioxidants and vitamins.
Here are some serving tips:
Fresh, tender leaves and shoots can be eaten raw either in salads or juiced.
In the mainland China where the greens are called by name yin-tsai (A. tricolor or Chinese spinach), it is employed in stir-fries and soups.
In the Indian subcontinent, the greens are called as chaulai found wide usage in curries, stews, and mixed vegetable dishes.
In Greece, the amaranth greens are popular as vleeta, boiled with other well-known green-leafy like dandelion, mustard green, chicory greens etc., dress with extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice and serve as the dish vrasta chorta.
Amaranth greens, like spinach, carry higher contents of oxalic acid (1.09 g/100g), a naturally-occurring substance found in some vegetables, which may crystallize as oxalate stones in the urinary tract in some people. Individuals with known oxalate urinary tract stones are advised to avoid eating certain vegetables belonging to Amaranthaceae and Brassica family. Adequate intake of water is therefore advised to maintain normal urine output.
Phytates and dietary fiber present in the leaves may interfere with the bioavailability of calcium, iron, and magnesium.
Because of its high vitamin-K content, patients taking anti-coagulants such as "warfarin" are encouraged to avoid amaranth in their food since it interferes with drug metabolism. (Medical disclaimer).
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USAID.GOV -Pdf-(Link opens in new window).
USDA National Nutrient Database.(Link opens new window)
Amaranth-Purdue University Education. (Link opens in new window).
Oxalic content of selected vegetables. (Link opens in new window).