Amaranth was cultivated for thousands of years by the Mayan and Incan civilizations in Mexico, and in Peru and India as well. It was one of the primary foods of Aztec royalty who regarded the grain as magical, giving them exceptional strength. The Aztecs would also use amaranth in bloody religious rituals, which led the Spanish conquerors to ban its cultivation and use. It almost disappeared but is slowly making a comeback as the public is becoming more aware of its incredible nutritional benefits.
Amaranth is a tall plant with broad edible leaves, and thousands of tiny seeds that can be popped like popcorn or ground into a gluten free flour. It has a distinct grassy nutty taste, which can come across as slightly bitter when used in baking. Although it is treated like a cereal grain, it is actually a pseudocereal, like quinoa and buckwheat. Amaranth is higher in protein than corn or beans, higher in fibre than most other grains, and is a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, and has 3 times the calcium of milk. It is particularly high in lysine, cysteine and methionine (essential amino acids required for cell and brain maintenance) which are usually low in other grains. Lysine is considered to be beneficial in combatting viral-related diseases, particularly herpes, especially when taken with vitamin C. Amaranth also has significant levels of phytosterols, which have been shown to lower cholesterol levels, and have a positive affect on chronic viral infections, rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, cancer and autoimmune diseases.