By Denis Faye

What makes a grain successful? There are scores of edible, delicious, healthy grains out there, yet we seem to have settled for wheat and rice. Take amaranth. It's nutritionally rich and it grows in the harshest conditions. Yet you've probably never even heard of it, and it's incredibly difficult to track down.

The reason we don't eat our veggie burgers on amaranth buns is that when the conquistadores showed up in the New World, they banned its cultivation because the Aztecs used it in their religious ceremonies. From that point until its rediscovery in the 1970s, it existed mostly in North America as a weed. Nothing like a little cultural genocide to ruin a perfectly good crop.

The nutrition facts

A quarter cup of raw amaranth is 180 calories, 30 from fat. It has 3 g of fat, 31 g of carbs and 7 g of protein. Fiber? Yes, indeed! 7 regularity-inducing grams! From a mineral perspective, iron is the big draw, with 20 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA)*. Magnesium is 30 percent, phosphorus is 27 percent, manganese is 80 percent, copper and selenium are 13 percent. You'll also get a little calcium, potassium, and zinc.

For vitamins, you'll find 14 percent of the RDA for Vitamin B6 and 10 pecent for folate, as well as vitamin C, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid.

How do you eat this stuff?

Although boiling is the typical way to eat an artichoke, you'll get a lot more flavor and a lot less sogginess if you steam it for about an hour. But before you do that, cut off the bottom right at the base. Some people also cut the top off each leaf, but you only need to do that if the tips are especially prickly.

As healthy as it is, amaranth is surprisingly fun to eat. No wonder the Aztecs dug it. You can use it like any other grain for breads and stews, but if you want to party, you can pop it like popcorn. Put a tiny bit of cooking oil in a saucepan. When it's hot, drop in the amaranth and cover. Shake the pot continually over the heat to keep the grains from burning until the popping slows down. Transfer the tiny, nutty-flavored, popped grains to a bowl and enjoy as you would popcorn.

Another cooking method is to add one part amaranth to three parts cold water. Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. You'll end up with a thick porridge similar to Cream of Wheat, only unprocessed and actually good for you.

1 cup of uncooked amaranth (193 g)
Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat
716 26.2 g 12.9 g 127 g 13.5 g