The other day as I was making my sandwich for lunch, I noticed that my bread was called “Ancient Grain”…I thought to myself, wonder what that means…hope it doesn’t mean that my bread has been around since ancient times…if that were the case, the bread would probably be stale…and the sandwich would probably make me sick.
So as I did research on out next cooking method—boiling—I found that one of the most commonly boiled foods are grains and have decided to explore this topic of “ancient grains” and grains in general for a while….beginning with amaranth.
Ancient grains are those grains that existed thousands of years and continue to thrive today….such as amaranth…which has been cultiivaed as far back aa 8,000 years ago.
Aramanth was originally harvested in Mexico and was in fact the central staple of the Aztec empire…possibly making up to 80% of the calories in their regular diets.
The Aztec people used amaranth for medicinal purposes….believing the grain to had healing powers.
Amaranth also played a significant role in their culture.
They even held an annual festival each December. This festival was a tribute to their god Huitzilopochtli. The Aztecs would prepare for this festival by decorating their homes and trees with paper flags and fasting. The people prepared for the whole month of December, probably like many of us do each December now to pay homage to our God.
During the festival they would sing songs…offer up prayers to this god…and eventually end the festival by offering a human sacrifices.
Not only that…they would also make statues of this god out of amaranth seeds and honey….eventually cutting this statue into small pieces and eating it once the feast was over.
In fact, even the name of the grain has religious importance…having been derived from either the Greek word amarantos, meaning “one that does not wither,” or “the never-fading.” …or the Hindi word Amar which translates to the the word “immortal.”
This all took place until the sixteenth century when Cortez “discovered” the Aztec civilization and Spaniards began moving into the land The Spanish immigrans of this “Spanish conquest” began fervently, and often forcefully, trying to convert the Aztecs to Christianity.
They declared any foods that had previously been involved in “heathen” festivals and religious ceremonies of the Aztec people—such as amaranth—as illegal…burning most of the amaranth plants and heavily punishng anyone caught with the grain.
After this Spanish Conquest, the grain almost went into extinction, but complete eradication of amaranth proved impossible. The seeds from the amaranth plant have in fact spread around the world.
Amaranth and Your Own Diet
Amaranth has a sweet and nutty taste.
Technically amaranth is not actually a grain at all, but a seed
As far as nutritional value, amaranth is a gluten-free grain that is one of the best protein sources for vegans. Amaranth also contains high amounts of many important amino acids, minerals, and vitamins
Let’s now look more closely at the nutritional value of amaranth….and why the Aztecs believed that amaranth had healing powers…and then we will see how amaranth is a common ingredient in many dishes in the following countries—Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, China, Russia, India, and Nepal,.