|AgJournal |  Home | New Crops Vault In Value | Feature||May 19, 2013|
New crops vault in value
Ancient Aztec grain packs a lot of protein
Amaranth is an annual broadleaf plant related to the pigweeds. Unlike its wild relatives, however, domesticated amaranth is not a troublesome weed. In fact, stand establishment may be the biggest challenge for the farmer raising amaranth. However, it is sensitive to herbicides that control pigweeds which means most commercial herbicides. Because of this, grain amaranth is a "natural" for organic farmers who use a row-crop cultivator to control weeds. The main market for amaranth in the United States is health-conscious consumers who are willing to pay a premium for highly nutritious, chemical-free grain products. Also, because it is not a cereal grain, amaranth grain is suitable for people with allergies to cereals.
The grain from amaranth can be milled or popped like popcorn. Amaranth grain may be used in:
The protein content of amaranth grain is higher than that of cereal grains, and it has a high lysine content as well. Other parts of the plant are very nutritious as well and there are "vegetable" type amaranth varieties grown for leaves to be used in soups and salads.
Interest In Amaranth Reviving
Production of amaranth went into a decline after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs. The reasons are unclear, according to Charles Kauffman and Leon Weber of the Rodale Research Center, Kutztown, PA. It may have resulted from the Spanish effort to crush Aztec culture, but then, corn was part of Aztec culture, too. "The small seed size of amaranth may have been a partial cause for the reduction in amaranth cultivation," said Kauffman and Weber. "A small-seeded crop requires greater attention to detail in the early parts of the growing season than does a larger-seeded crop, such as maize (corn)."
Western Nebraska has become the most concentrated area of amaranth production in the United States. University of Nebraska specialists caution that domestic demand currently requires production from only 3,000 acres annually. Contract production is the only way to ensure access to the market and, although demand for amaranth is growing, most buyers are increasing contract acreage with established producers rather than increasing the number of individual contracts. To profit from amaranth production, growers must be more aggressive marketers than with more conventional crops.
Because of its high protein and energy content, and because it can be grown in a wide range of environments, from arid-temperate to humid-tropical, grain amaranth holds promise as an economical source of food for growing populations in developing countries. G. Kelly O'Brien and Martin Price of the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO), a non-profit, Christian organization dedicated to the fight against world hunger, noted that the protein complement of amaranth grain is very near to the levels recommended by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization. Amaranth also contains large amounts of vitamin C, carotene, calcium and folic acid.
One source of amaranth seed is the Albert Lea Seed House .
May 19, 2013
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