Amaranth [Amaranthus hypochondriacus, A. cruentus (grain type) & A. tricolor (vegetable type)] is an herbaceous annual with upright growth habit, cultivated for both its seeds which are used as a grain and its leaves which are used as a vegetable or green. Both leaves and seeds contain protein of an unusually high quality. The grain is milled for flour or popped like popcorn. The leaves of both the grain and vegetable types may be eaten raw or cooked. Amaranths grown principally for vegetable use have better tasting leaves then the grain types.
Originating in the Americas and Europe, amaranth has been cultivated for more than 8,000 years, dating back at least to the Mayan civilization of South and Central America. It was a staple of the Aztecs and incorporated into their religious ceremonies. In the 1500’s the Spanish conquistadors prohibited amaranth production. In that area today only a limited amount of amaranth grain is grown, most of which is popped and mixed with honey to make a confection called, “alegría.” However, much of the genetic base has been maintained there because amaranth has continued to grow as a wildflower.