Several species are raised for amaranth “grain” in Asia and the Americas. This should more correctly be termed “pseudograin” (see below). They are highly edible by gluten intolerant individuals because they are not a member of the grass family and contain no gluten.
Ancient amaranth grains still used to this day include the three species, Amaranthus caudatus, Amaranthus cruentus, and Amaranthus hypochondriacus. Although amaranth was (and still is) cultivated on a small scale in parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, India, and Nepal, there is potential for further cultivation in the U.S and tropical countries and it is often referred to as “the crop of the future.” It has been proposed as an inexpensive native crop that could be cultivated by indigenous people in rural areas for several reasons: 1) it is easily harvested, 2) it produces lots of fruit and thus seeds, which are used as grain, 3) it is highly tolerant of arid environments, which are typical of most subtropical and some tropical regions, and 4) its seeds contain large amounts of protein and essential amino acids, such as lysine. 5) Amaranthus species are reported to have a 30% higher protein value than cereals, such as rice, wheat flour, oats, and rye. 6) It requires little fuel to cook. As befits its weedy life history, amaranth grains grow very rapidly and their large seed heads can weigh up to 1 kilogram and contain a half-million seeds.
Amaranth was one of the staple foodstuffs of the Incas, and it is known as kiwicha in the Andes today. It was also used by the ancient Aztecs, who called it huautli, and other Native America peoples in Mexico to prepare ritual drinks and foods. To this day, amaranth grains are toasted much like popcorn or martala and mixed with honey, molasses or chocolate to make a treat called alegrïa (joy in Spanish).
Amaranth was used in several Aztec ceremonies, where images of their gods (notably Huitzilopochtli) were made with amaranth mixed with honey and sometimes, reputedly, human blood. The images were cut to be eaten by the people. This looked like the Christian communion to the invading Roman Catholic priests, so the cultivation of the grain was forbidden for centuries.
Amaranth grain is a crop of moderate importance in the Himalaya.
Because of its importance as a symbol of indigenous culture, and because it is very palatable, easy to cook, and its protein particularly well suited to human nutritional needs, interest in grain amaranth (especially A. cruentus and A. hypochondriacus) revived in the 1970s. It was recovered in Mexico from wild varieties and is now commercially cultivated. It is a popular snack sold in Mexico City and other parts of Mexico, sometimes mixed with chocolate or puffed rice, and its use has spread to Europe and parts of North America. Amaranth and quinoa are called pseudograins because of their flavor and cooking similarities to grains. These are dicot plant seeds, and both contain exceptionally complete protein for plant sources. Besides protein, amaranth grain provides a good source of dietary fiber and dietary minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and especially manganese. It has been claimed to be beneficial in preventing greying of hair.