Quinoa and Amaranth: an overview
These two plants, which are both very ancient and come from the same geographical area (Latin America), have parallel origins and history. From a botanical point of view, we could define them as “cousins”, in fact both are part of the Amaranthaceae family although they belong to two different subfamilies: Chenopodiaceae (Quinoa) and Amaranthoideae (Amaranth). Both are defined as “pseudo-cereals” as they are not cereals but belong to the same family as spinach and sugar beet. However, their nutritional values and their use are very similar to those of cereals. They are considered “superfoods”, a very fashionable term that indicates those natural foods with excellent nutritional characteristics that are able not only to nourish, but also to bring benefits to the body. Both Quinoa and Amaranth give gluten-free seeds, therefore they are ideal for coeliacs. Quinoa is also the only food plant that contains all essential amino acids, also ideal for a vegetarian or vegan diet.
The word Amaranth (known in Peru and Bolivia as “Kiwicha”) comes from the Greek amàranthos, which means immortal, eternal. There are about 60 species of Amaranth, many of which are wild (in southern Europe we have some examples, especially in vineyards). The edible species are divided into vegetable amaranth (of which the leaves are used) and grain amaranth (of which the seeds are used). Amaranth has very high nutritional values (its protein value is higher than that of cow’s milk), it offers numerous benefits for the body and can be of importance as a food, but also for pharmaceutical and cosmetic purposes. As food it can be used to make flour, salads, in soups, to make milk or yogurt. It contains more the three times the amount of calcium found in cereals and a high content of iron, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and vitamin C. In addition to providing a high amount of protrin, it contains lysine (like Quinoa), an amino acid almost absent in many cereals. It is highly recommended for high-protein diets and for people with cholesterol or diabetes problems; it helps prevent colon cancer and osteoporosis.
Quinoa is better known than Amaranth (at least in Europe). This is probably due to the great media coverage that Quinoa received in 2013 (declared by FAO as the “Year of Quinoa”). Even Quinoa, like Amaranth (and other species), has long since sunk into oblivion. Quinoa is undoubtedly the most popular superfood of the moment, its qualities and potential are, in some ways, superior to those of Amaranth. Thanks to its riboflavin content it is good for people who suffer from frequent migraines. Its low glycaemic index complex carbohydrates help to keep weight under control as well as avoid blood sugar rises (this data also allows us to be optimistic about the potential beneficial effect of Quinoa on reducing the risks related to some types of diabetes). But, above all, as already mentioned above, it is the only food plant containing all the essential amino acids. Quinoa, like Amaranth, can be used in different ways: for making flour, to make salads, in soups, to make milk or yogurt. A product destined to be very successful is probably quinoa milk. Another field in which Quinoa finds application is cosmetics.
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