If you have celiac disease or you're just sensitive to gluten, now is a good time to browse through the many substitutes available for the usual wheat, barley and rye. Not all substitutes are actually grains.
Consider amaranth. Never heard of it before? Neither have many other people. Amaranth is not well-known but it should be.
Amaranth is increasingly finding its way into foods for the gluten-impaired. It's already being used in baked goods like breads and cakes.
Amaranth is not a grain, it's a seed belonging to the Amaranthaceae family. Those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity can use it as a substitute for glutenous grains however.
Unlike many grains, amaranth has a high lysine content. Most grains have little or no lysine, an amino acid.
But amaranth is considered a complete protein because of its lysine content, along with the other essential amino acids. Protein content hovers around 13 to 14 percent.
Amaranth has the most protein of any gluten-free grain, on a par of protein in milk. It also contains more protein than wheat.
Researchers at the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama at Guatemala obtained results that indicated amaranth's protein was comparable to animal products like cheese.
Its protein was also considered to be superior to most vegetable-source proteins. Amaranth is also high in calcium, iron, fiber, fatty acids, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. Grains don't contain vitamin C but amaranth does.
Nutritionally, amaranth stands tall. But despite its stellar attributes, it shouldn't stand alone.
This is because it is so very absorbent when it's used without other flours. Bakery items made just with amaranth will produce dense, heavy concoctions that resemble paperweights and doorstops more than bread or cookies.
This just means you'll need to try your hand at experimentation with other gluten-free flours until you find a combination that is lighter and more edible.
Amaranth is believed to date back to the Aztec civilization according to wisegeek.com. Growing amaranth is somewhat touchier than some other grains and flour crops due to susceptibility to many diseases and pests.
Some (like wisegeek.com) say that amaranth leaves taste rather like spinach. You can put the leaves in salads, or cook them in stews and other dishes.
In its masquerade as a grain, amaranth can be used in breads, cereals, crackers, muffins and pancakes.
Or you can boil it in in water for 15 to 20 minutes. Then drain and rinse it. After it's cooked and given time to dry, it can be used in such diverse recipes as salads, soups and cookie batter.
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Reviewed December 7, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN