Apart from kiwicha (Amaranthus caudatus) featured previously as our Crop of the Week, two more amaranth species, namely Amaranthus hypochondriacus and Amaranthus cruentus are used in various parts of the world for their edible grain. Although the leaves of grain amaranths are also highly palatable and nutritionally dense (notably with high contents of protein, vitamin C, carotene, calcium, iron and fibre), these species are predominantly produced as a source of (non-cereal) grain. The genus Amarathus is believed to have originated from Central and South America, and contains some 60 species, all of which are weedy. They often grow spontaneously in fields and disturbed habitats, and some are cultivated.
The height of plants varies from 0.6 to 2.4 m. They have a main axis that terminates in an apical large branched inflorescence that is typically pigmented with bright colours. The various amaranth species grow well from sea level to the high elevations of tropical mountain valleys. For example, A. caudatus thrives at altitudes of over 3000 meters above sea level in the Andes and the Himalayas. The size of the grains varies from 0.9 to 1.7 mm in diameter and there are 1000 to 3000 seeds in one gram of grain. Seed colour varies from from purple and red to green or gold.
Amaranth protein has twice the lysine content of wheat protein, three times that of maize and the same as milk. The supplementation of a cereal-based diet with amaranth seeds raises the overall value of dietary protein and lends itself for combating protein energy malnutrition.
Aside from its high nutritional content, amaranth is also adaptable to adverse growing conditions. It is hardy against heat and drought, has no major disease problems and requires little maintenance to grow.
For more information on grain amaranth see:
- Krishnakumary K. 2011. Grain Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.). Future Crops. Daya Publishing House, New Delhi, India, p. 40-55.
- Senft JP, Kauffman CS, Bailey NN. 1981. The Genus Amaranthus: A comprehensive Bibliography. Rodale Press Incorporated, Emmaus, Pennsylvania, USA, 217 pp.
(Text contributed by Prof. Dr. K.V. Peter from World Noni Research Foundation, Chennai, India;