The Story of Amaranth in the Americas
Thousands of years of cultivation followed by five centuries of erasure and a burgeoning resurgence.
This is the first series of stories for this newsletter, though it will certainly not be the last. Each series will look at a particular topic, which might be a place or an idea of some sort. In this case, it’s an ingredient. Amaranth. Over the next few weeks, you’ll get insight into this once integral New World crop that has been systematically erased from our collective memories over the past 500 years. Through various recipes and stories, you’ll hear different voices that know the plant, grow it, write about it and cook with it.
Just five centuries ago, few plants were as important as a food source in the Americas as amaranth. From Canada to Chile, dozens of species of the Amaranthus genus were as widely cultivated as corn and beans. The plant’s protein rich seeds, used like a grain, and their versatile, nutritious leaves, were a staple crop for the Inca, Maya, Aztec and nearly every other Pre-Colombian group that inhabited this immense landscape.
However, as soon as the Catholic church saw the spiritual significance of amaranth in the 1500s among the Aztec in Mexico, it was targeted for erasure. Over time it was mostly replaced by grains like wheat and leafy greens like spinach. Yet, the plant was not eradicated. It has been kept alive through a chain of human hands and is undergoing a resurgence.
The following stories and recipes over the next few weeks will help tell the story of amaranth in the Americas. The systematic erasure of the plant, its cultural and biological background and what the future might hold. Through this series, I want you to understand why you probably aren’t using it, despite it being one of the most nutritious plants on earth. I want you to not see it as some exotic food, but one of the most basic, fundamental crops of this part of the world. I want you to understand how versatile it is and how easy it is to cook with. Enjoy!
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