It’s not surprising that Prospector members have requested articles on ancient grains (EU). They’re popular ingredients in many food products on the market today, providing diverse nutritional profiles, extensive applications and the ability to cater to different markets, like gluten-free and vegan. As a follow-up to my first article on ancient grains, I’m digging into amaranth and quinoa, two “grains” that have made huge gains in popularity in North America and Europe in the last four years.
Both amaranth and quinoa are considered pseudocereals, which means that although the plants they come from are not in the same botanical families as common grains, they can be used in a similar manner. Both have gluten-free status and are safe to consume for those with celiac disorders.
A major food crop and a sacred part of the religious practices of the Aztecs, amaranth (EU) has been grown as a crop for over 6,000 years. It is also an important source of food and feed across Africa, India, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nepal. While amaranth prefers to grow at high elevations, it is extremely adaptive to many climates, including sub-Saharan regions, and even in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
In a three-year span between 2010 and 2013, amaranth has been included in new products nearly 2.4 times more often in Europe and North America, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database.
- The tiny seeds are a good source of protein. They contain approximately 30% more protein than rice, sorghum and rye.
- Amaranth seeds contain lysine, which is limited in many other grains. However, they have less leucine and threonine, so blending them with other products like wheat germ, corn or oats will aid in boosting a finished product’s amino acid profile.
- If cooked, amaranth can easily replace wheat germ or oats in cereal, bread and cookie formulas.
- Amaranth has a high level of water binding capacity and a light nutty / corn flavor, which is mild and adaptable to most any situation.
- Amaranth can be puffed (EU) or popped and added to cookies, bread, and nutrition bars. While puffed amaranth are tiny in comparison to other grains, the addition of these little puffed bits can add nutritional value to formulas, as well as a unique texture to snack foods.
- Addition of amaranth flour (EU) in wheat-based products should be evaluated. Studies show that 25% replacement is the limit, beyond which finished product characteristics like surface appearance, color, flavor, and taste were affected in cookies produced with amaranth flour.
- The addition of amaranth flour can increase the absorption in formulas, so expect to do some trials for finding your ideal moisture addition level.
- Adding amaranth flour to chips can lend a unique flavor to the finished product.
Originating in Peru and Bolivia, quinoa (EU) was believed to be domesticated between 3,000 and 5,000 years BCE, as evidenced in the archeological excavations of tombs in Chile and Peru. Just as amaranth seeds come in many colors, so do quinoa seeds, with red (EU), white (EU), and black (EU) varieties being the most widely available.
Many new product launches featuring quinoa have been in the gluten-free category. Overall, the number of new product launches containing quinoa nearly doubled between 2010 and 2013 in Europe and North America.
- Quinoa’s flavor is mild and adaptable to both sweet and savory dishes, as it takes on flavors effortlessly.
- Saponins, glycosides typically present on the exterior of the quinoa seed, may require pre-rinsing prior to processing. Check with your supplier to determine if this step is needed. The flavor of the seeds will be impacted by the removal of the saponins. If they are not pre-rinsed, the cooked product may have bitter notes.
- Quinoa has a high protein content and is a complete protein, meaning it has balanced levels of all amino acids. This is not often seen in plant protein sources, making it an excellent addition to vegan and vegetarian entrees.
- It contains more fiber than most other grains and has significant amounts of vitamin E, riboflavin, iron, and manganese.
- For a clean label, consider the use of quinoa starch (EU) as an alternative to modified starches.
- Cooked whole grain quinoa demonstrates great freeze-thaw stability in products and can be sold in pouches.
- Quinoa flakes (EU) can be used in most applications that call for rolled oats.
- The FAO highlighted quinoa last year and has a great webpage and chart showing potential industrial uses, for food and beyond.
Regardless of whether you use amaranth or quinoa in your formula, you can be certain that these ingredients will add a unique nutritional punch to your products.
WNYC Last Chance Foods – Amaranth’s Ancient History
Forbes – Meet Amaranth, Quinoa’s Ancient Superfood Cousin
European Food Research & Technology: Effect of Incorporation of Amaranth Flour on the Quality of Cookies
Whole Grains Council – Amaranth, May Grain of the Month
International Journal of Food Science & Technology – Effect of water, albumen and fat on the quality of gluten-free bread containing amaranth
International Journal of Food Properties – The effect of amaranth grain flour on the quality of bread
Comprehesive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety – Nutritional Components of Amaranth Seeds & Vegetables: A Review on Composition, Properties and Uses
Journal of the Institute of Brewing – Behavior of Malted Cereals and Pseudo-Cereals for Gluten-Free Beer
FAO – Quinoa 2013 International Year
Whole Grains Council – Quinoa, March Grain of the Month
Journal of Food Composition and Analysis – Chemical Composition and Nutritional Evaluation of Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.)
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