The self-seeding, easily grown amaranth plant was cultivated as long ago as the early 1500s, during the days of Montezuma's Aztec empire, and to this day it is grown by a few small farmers in Mexico and Central and South America. Seeds also found their way to Asia, where the plant has spread steadily during the past century throughout India and the Himalayas.
And now, the National Academy of Sciences' 10-year study of heretofore unknown, neglected, or overlooked plant resources reveals that the amaranth plant is heavily loaded with proteins, vitamins, and minerals. In fact, it has the potential to become ``the grain of the future,'' with broad implications for solving the world's food problems.
Each amaranth plant, of which there are some 60 species, contains about half a million seeds which are richer in protein than other common grains.
The broad green leaves, which taste like spinach, exceed other plants in calcium and iron content.
In the United States only a small number of farmers are growing amaranth, the seeds of which can be ground into flour and made into bread, rolls, crackers, cereals, soups, pancakes, fillings, dumplings, and even beverages.
Fortunately, amaranth thrives in a variety of environments -- wet and dry, hot and cold -- and in various soils and altitudes. Hence it offers the potential for rapid expansion into large-scale production.
In the wake of these recent findings on the nutritional value of amaranth and its broad adaptability to growing conditions, private companies and academic institutions are engaged in extensive research on the uses and development of amaranth as a food.
Readers interested in experimenting with amaranth seeds and flour for growing and cooking can obtain them by mail order from Walnut Acres, Penns Creek, Pa. 17862.