Amaranth keeps on flowering until hit by the first hard frost. Seed will often ripen many weeks before that, usually after about three months. The best way to determine if seed is harvestable is to gently but briskly shake or rub the flower heads between your hands and see if the seeds fall readily. (Numerous small and appreciative birds may give hints as to when to start doing this.) An easy way to gather ripe grain is, in dry weather, to bend the plants over a bucket and rub the seedheads between your hands. My own preferred threshing method is to rub the flowerheads through screening into a wheelbarrow and then to blow away the finer chaff using my air compressor. Cutting and hanging plants to dry indoors does not work very well: the plants become extremely bristly and it is difficult to separate the seed from the chaff.
The best time to harvest amaranth commercially is in dry weather three to seven days after first frost—a condition not easily met in many places. Most presently available varieties maintain too high a moisture content to be harvested mechanically before a killing frost.
Clean quinoa and amaranth with screens, by winnowing, with a fan or other blowing device. After harvesting, it is important to further dry your crop to ensure it won’t mold in storage. It can be left on trays in the hot sun or placed near an indoor heat source. Stir occasionally until it is as dry as possible. Store seed in air-tight containers in a cool dry place.
Threshing. Unlike beans or true grains, quinoa and amaranth have no hulls to remove. However, quinoa is covered with a bitter substance called saponin, which birds and deer won’t touch. Because of this coating, quinoa requires thorough rinsing before cooking. One method is to put the grain in a blender with cool water at lowest speed, changing the water until it is no longer soapy. It takes about five water changes to achieve the desired, non-frothy result. Another way is to tie the desired amount of quinoa in a stocking, a loose weave muslin bag, or a pillowcase and to run it through a cold water cycle of an automatic washing machine. You can also get away with less or no rinsing by mixing quinoa with other grains or pulses, rendering the saponin hardly noticeable.
Commercial quinoa has had the saponin removed.
Amaranth has no saponin and no hulls, so can be cooked without additional preparation.
Yields. An ounce or two of seed per plant is common but you can easily get over six ounces per plant grown in your best compost. Normal commercial yields for amaranth and quinoa are 1200 to 2000 pounds (500-900 kg) per acre. Agricultural combines are still being adapted to the lightness of the seed, and full harvest potential is yet to be realized. Much higher results are obtained from labour-intensive harvesting: yields of over 5,000 pounds per acre have been reported from Central and South America.
Cooking. Basic recipe: Bring equal volumes of amaranth/quinoa and water to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until all water is absorbed. Amaranth takes about 10-12 minutes and quinoa 12-15 minutes. For a more porridge-like consistency, use a greater proportion of water. Experiment to find the texture you prefer.
Quinoa and amaranth both contain about 16 percent protein, E and B vitamins, calcium, iron and phosphorous. They are easy to digest and have wonderful flavour. Their simple distinctive taste gives them great versatility for cooking purposes. They can be substituted for other grains in many recipes, though they are much more filling. Because they are not true cereal grains, they can be eaten by people who suffer from cereal grain allergies.
Young quinoa and amaranth greens make tasty salad material and are high in vitamins (especially calcium and iron), minerals and protein. Carrots juiced with a small amount of either leaves make a most invigorating drink.
Older greens are wonderful steamed, stir-fried or incorporated into curries or casseroles. Some varieties have better greens than others and are usually so indicated in seed catalogues. One of the tastiest amaranths grown for greens is called Tampala. Amaranth is also called Chinese Spinach because of its popularity as a green vegetable in that country.
Amaranth seed is often ground into flour; it contains more gluten than that of quinoa and combines well with traditional flours in the ratio of one part amaranth to four parts other grains.
Saving Your Own Seed. Amaranth and quinoa cross with their wild relatives, so it is important to weed out red-rooted pigweed and lamb’s-quarters if you want to maintain pure seed. Amaranth cultivars will cross with each other as will quinoa cultivars, so grow only one kind of each or separate cultivars by as much distance as you can. Certain varieties, such as purple-leaved amaranth, are easier to select for than others. Lamb’s-quarters has a greater branching habit than quinoa and smaller flowerheads.
Outlook. Quinoa and amaranth have exciting possibilities for the home gardener looking for hardy, easy-to-grow, high-protein foods. They have higher food quality than our common grains such as wheat and oats, and they don’t have hulls that need to be removed by machinery prior to cooking. Instructions on most commercial packaging to cook these grains for 30 minutes might be hampering their popularization: 15 minutes simmering is long enough to provide soft but non-mushy grain. From my own success with growing amaranth and quinoa over many years, I would say that the difficulties in cultivating and preparing these two grains are relatively minor and that the pleasures obtained in growing and eating them are definitely major.
Salt Spring Seeds‘ Varieties. For both quinoa and amaranth I’ve tried to maintain a good land race mix rather than focussing on varietal differences. This has been because I haven’t noticed significant flavour differences in the cultivars that grow the best here. Multi-hued Quinoa has unique flower tones of mauve, purple, red, orange, green and yellow. They are not flamboyant but have a subtle brilliance: they need to be absorbed for a while, especially in morning or evening light, to be fully appreciated. Amaranth Mix has spectacular flowering heads of purple, red, bronze, gold and green. Purple Amaranth has purple leaves and deep burgundy flowers.
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