yin choy (and other Chinese variations), callaloo (and other Caribbean variations), quelite/quintonil (Mexican), bledo blanco (Latin American), chaulai/bhaji (Indian), pirum/birum namul (Korean), hiyu (Japan), Kiwicha (ancient Inca)
(Amaranthus sp. – Family Amaranthaceae)
Amaranth does not belong to the grass family of grains, but does produce a seed that is used as a para-cereal grain. The genus Amaranthus includes about sixty species which are classified according to their uses as grain amaranths, leaf amaranths (A. tricolor), and dual-purpose amaranths. Chinese spinach or yin choy (var.gangeticus), A. dubius, A. hybridus, and A. cruentus all belong to the very useful leaf amaranths of the Third World. The leaves are quite distinctive as they are green like spinach, but the veins are stained a beet red and often used as a food colouring for ceremonial dishes.
All are tall plants that can grow to heights of over eight feet, with each plant bearing long, trailing seed clusters. The individual seed is extremely tiny, being somewhat smaller than millet. Up to half a million tiny round seeds may be contained in one seed head weighing almost ten pounds. The crop is resistant to drought and can thrive on poor soils and arid land.
Like quinoa, amaranth does provide plenty of minerals and considerable quantities of Vitamin C. Its valuable source of protein exceeds that of wheat (15g in 100g cereal) or any other cereal grain, including that of lysine, which is normally very low in grains. Another advantage is that amaranth can be used by those with wheat allergies since it does not contain gluten nor is it a member of the same family as wheat or corn. Because of its high oil content, the seeds are rarely exported as it is highly perishable. However, it can be found in the countries where it is grown and, not only in Latin American or Asian countries, but also in Canada and the United States. Amaranth is native to South and Central America, where the Aztec ruler, Montezuma, extracted thousands of pounds of the seeds each year as taxes. The Andean peoples held it in high esteem, using it for both dietary and medicinal purposes.
The crimson flowers have an astringent property. Infusions of these can be effective in treating diarrhea or dysentery and reducing excessive menstrual flow. These flowers are sometimes available from herbal shops or health food stores. Amaranth oils are high in “squalene”. Squalene was first isolated from the liver of a shark, but it is also found naturally in the skin of humans. Squalene is said to have properties that ward off cancer producing substances in the body. It also fights against bacteria, fungi, herpes and other viruses, and improves autoimmune disorders. Shark oil has a 1% squalene content, while the content of amaranth oil is 8%. The oil is also used to help heal burns, insect bites, psoriasis, and bedsores (decubitus ulcers).
The leaves of the amaranth are harvested twenty to thirty days after sowing. Amaranthus dubius is widely distributed in West Africa and the Caribbean. On the island of Java, this species is thought to be the only one of the leaf amaranth. The tender dark green leaves and young shoots should be prepared as soon as possible after harvesting as they are highly perishable. The leaves and shoots are cooked like spinach. Amaranth is one of many vegetables known as ‘callaloo’ in the Caribbean. Callaloo can signify many species of amaranth or taro, or it can be used for a soup or stew made with either, or without. Therefore, for the tourist, confusion will always be a way of life, but, to be sure, you are bound to obtain “something” to eat when the word is used.