by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist
Grains have been getting a lot of bad press lately, and undeservedly so. It is true that many people have grain allergies and must stay away from grains or pay the price in intestinal distress, hives, and the like. But to those with no allergy issues who avoid grains, that bad press is doing a disservice to you, your diet, and your health.
All grains start out as whole grains. Whole grains are the entire seed, or kernel, of a plant: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The seed is protected by in inedible shell that protects it from pests, disease, etc. The bran is the outer layer of the edible seed. It contains fiber, B vitamins, and antioxidants. The germ contains vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. This is the portion of the plant that allows new plants to sprout. The endosperm is the largest part of the seed and is the germ’s food supply. It contains carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Whole grains contain all three parts of the seed. Processing removes the germ and bran which removes 25% of the seed’s protein along with 17 key vitamins and minerals.
Grains, in their natural state, are delicious, healthy, and filling. As a food group, grains include oats, barley, rice, millet, wheat, millet, quinoa, amaranth, rye, sorghum, and buckwheat. Studies have shown that eating whole grains, not the refined grains found in breads and cereals, lowers the risk of many chronic diseases. They also help regulate digestion and elimination, lower blood cholesterol, boost heart health, and keep you fuller longer. Introducing grains to your diet is simple, tasty, and healthy.
Amaranth is a grain that is easily harvested, easy to cook, gluten free, and is high in protein. An extremely versitile grain, it is cooked as a cereal, popped like popcorn, toasted, and ground into flour. It is also used to thicken soups and stews. When using amaranth in bread baking, it must be mixed with other flours because it contains no gluten. But it can be used by itself in pasta, pancakes, and flatbreads.
It takes only 20 minutes to cook, and uses a one cup grain to two and one half cup liquid ratio. Bring water and amaranth to a boil and cook until the grain is tender. To make a tasty cereal for breakfast, increase the liquid to three cups using half water and half apple juice. Cook as directed then add desired sweetener, dried fruit, coconut, and perhaps some ground walnuts or pecans. Be careful not to overcook amaranth as it can become too thick and sticky.
Amaranth contains two essential amino acids not usually found in grains, and has three times the fiber and five times the iron content of wheat. When used in combination with corn, brown rice, or wheat it also becomes a complete protein. Store it in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator to protect its’ fatty acids and to prevent it from becoming rancid. It should be used within three to six months.
Fresh corn is available now and is delicious in this Amaranth, Quinoa, and Corn Chowder recipe from the Food.com website.
Amaranth, Quinoa, and Corn Chowder
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups finely chopped leeks (white and light green parts)
1 cup finely diced celery (peel celery before dicing if desired)
1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 cup amaranth
1/2 cup quinoa, thoroughly rinsed
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups corn kernels (thawed if using frozen)
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley (optional)
In a large, heavy pot, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the leeks, celery, red bell pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetable are soft, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the amaranth and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the quinoa and thyme. Return to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and cook at a gentle boil, partially covered, for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a blender or food processor, puree 3 cups of the corn kernels with 1 cup of water. When the quinoa has cooked for 10 minutes, stir the corn puree and the remaining corn kernels into the soup. Add salt to taste. Reduce the heat and simmer until the quinoa and amaranth are tender, 3 to 5 more minutes. When the quinoa is done, there will be no starchy white dot in the center of each grain, and some of the germs’ “tails” may unfurl and float freely. On close inspection, the amaranth will look like tiney opaque bubble floating on the surface.
Stir in the milk and remaining tablespoon of butter. Add more salt, if needed. Divide into portions and garnish each with a little parsley.
Note: The soup thickens on standing; thin as needed with additional milk, and add salt to taste.