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Amaranth (amaranto in Spanish and Portuguese), an annual herb with tiny seeds (genus: Amaranthus; family: Amaranthaceae) that includes fifty to sixty species, the most nutritious of which are the grain amaranths. Three species utilized in the Americas are A. hypochondriacus in northwestern and central Mexico, A. cruentus in southern Mexico and Central America, and A. caudatus in the Andes. Growing from 1 to 10 feet tall, with broad, colorful leaves, the plant bears up to half a million seeds on each seed head. The leaves, eaten like spinach, are high in protein, rich in vitamins and iron, and are also used to produce natural dyes to color foods and beverages. The grain is a complete-protein food source, containing all nine essential amino acids and has a pleasant, nutty flavor that is enhanced with toasting. Once toasted, boiled, or milled, the seeds may be eaten in cereals, baked as flour in breads, popped like popcorn, and made into candies. The Mexicans mix honey or molasses and popped amaranth into a popular sweet they call alegría (happiness), which is commonly found throughout the country in both large and small markets.

Domesticated in the Americas, pale-seeded amaranth dates from 4000 bce in Tehuacán, Puebla. Archaeologists have also located amaranth in 2,000-year-old tombs in northwestern Argentina. Before 1500 ce the core regions of amaranth cultivation were in Central Mexico, Peru, and northwestern Argentina. Additional pockets were in Ecuador, Guatemala, southern and northwestern Mexico, and the North American southwest. By 1519 amaranth was a major food crop subject to tribute in the Aztec Empire. Each year the Aztecs filled eighteen granaries with the ivory-white seeds (huauhtli in Náhuatl). They utilized the plant as a toasted grain, for greens, and as a drink. They also popped it. Although an important part of the Aztec diet, amaranth was banned by the Spanish because of its ritual use. In the early sixteenth century, the Aztecs celebrated a feast in honor of their patron deity, Huitzilopochtli, whose statue made of amaranth dough they paraded through the streets of Tenochtitlán. Returning to the temple, the priests broke the statue into pieces, consecrated it as the bones and flesh of Huitzilopochtli, and distributed the pieces in a "communion" ceremony. Other deities were also represented by amaranth dough, while the Tepanecs and Tarascans used it to form images of birds and animals.

In spite of Spanish prohibitions, indigenous peoples of Mexico and Guatemala continued to plant amaranth and to make statues with the dough. Over time it was even assimilated into Christian rituals, being used to make rosaries. Farmers in the Andean highlands of Peru, Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina also cultivated amaranth, and the colonial Spanish recorded that red and white amaranth seeds (bledos) were very commonly used to make candies by the local people. Due to its antiquity in the Andes, it is known by various names: kiwicha, achis, achita, ckoito, coyo, or coimi in Peru; and coimi, cuime, millmi, or quinua millmi in Bolivia. Daniel K. Early notes that amaranth is making a comeback in Peru and Mexico as a subsistence and commercial crop cultivated primarily by indigenous peoples following traditional techniques.

See alsoSpices and Herbsxml .


Jonathan D. Sauer, "The Grain Amaranths: A Survey of Their History and Classification," in Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 37, no. 4 (1950): 561-632, and "Grain Amaranths," in Evolution of Crop Plants, edited by N. W. Simmonds (1976), pp. 4-7.

John N. Cole, Amaranth from the Past for the Future (1979).

Daniel K. Early, "The Renaissance of Amaranth," in Chilies to Chocolate: Food the Americas Gave the World, edited by Nelson Foster and Linda S. Cordell (1992), pp. 15-33.

                                             Mary Karasch

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A flower that is one of the symbols of immortality. It has been said by occult magicians that a crown made with this flower has supernatural properties and will bring fame and favor to those who wear it. It was also regarded in ancient times as a symbol of immortality and was used to decorate images of gods and tombs. In ancient Greece, the flower was sacred to the goddess Artemis of Ephesus, and the name "amaranth" derives from Amarynthos, a hunter of Artemis and king of Euboea.

There are many species of Amaranth, some with poetic folk names such as "prince's feather" and "love-lies-bleeding."

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amaranth •amaranth •nth, tenth •eighteenth, fifteenth, fourteenth, nineteenth, seventeenth, sixteenth, thirteenth, umpteenth •plinth, synth •Corinth • labyrinth • jacinth •absinthe • hyacinth • ninth •crème de menthe • month •twelvemonth •billionth, millionth, trillionth, zillionth •eleventh, seventh •thousandth • dozenth

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amaranth mythical fadeless flower; genus of ornamental plants. XVII (XVI in L. form). — F. amarante or modL. amaranthus, alt. after names in -anthus (Gr. ánthos flower) of L. amarantus — Gr. amáranton, f. A-4 + maran-, stem of marainein to wither.
So amaranthine XVII. — modL.

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amaranth in poetic and literary usage, an imaginary flower that never fades, and is thus taken as a type of immortality; the name comes ultimately from Greek amarantos ‘unfading’.

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amaranth A burgundy red colour, stable to light (E‐123).