Amaranth: The Amazing Grain

Could the answer to the problem of world hunger be Amaranth? Liz Waid and Joshua Leo look at the history and modern use of this ancient and amazing grain.

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Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight.  I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Joshua Leo. Spotlight uses a special method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

What if there was a plant that could help solve the world’s hunger problems? What if it was very healthy? What if it could grow in many difficult climates? What if it produced many seeds that were easy to gather? And what if it took very little fuel to cook?

Voice 2 

A plant like this may seem like a dream. But it is real! This amazing plant is called amaranth. Today’s Spotlight is on the history and modern uses of amaranth.

Voice 1 

Amaranth has been an important food crop for thousands of years. Many generations of people have grown this grain in mountains and difficult climates. Today, Amaranth is a common plant in countries like Peru, India, Nepal, and Guatemala.

Voice 2 

But historians believe the first use of amaranth was in Mexico. Experts have found evidence that people in the city of Tehuacan Puebla, Mexico used amaranth over 6,000 years ago. They grew the grain and used it to make bread.

Voice 1 

The largest production and use of amaranth was by the Mexican Aztecs in the 15th century. Amaranth was very important to Aztec culture.  In fact, they celebrated amaranth for a whole month each year. December was the month of amaranth. During this month, people hung paper flags around their homes. They danced, prayed, ran races, and sang.

Voice 2 

During this time, they also held religious celebrations. Priests made a small model of a god. They made the model from amaranth, sweet liquid honey and blood. People fasted, or ate very little, during the month of amaranth. At the end of the month, the community leaders cut the amaranth god into pieces. Everyone ate a piece of the god. The Aztecs also sacrificed humans as part of the celebration. They believed the sacrifice would bring a large harvest that year.

Voice 1 

In the 1500s, Spanish soldiers arrived in Mexico. They took control of the area and they stopped the human sacrifices. When the Spanish thought of amaranth, they connected it with human sacrifices. They thought amaranth was evil. So they did not permit the Aztec people to grow the grain. Because of this decision by the Spanish, fewer and fewer people planted amaranth.  And instead, corn and wheat become the most popular crops in this area.

Voice 2 

But amaranth has many positive qualities. It grows in very difficult places - like the mountains. It does not need a lot of water. And it does not need special soil. Amaranth can grow in dry, sandy, thick or wet soil. It also grows very quickly and produces a lot of seeds. People can easily save the seeds and grow more amaranth.

Voice 1 

Amaranth is also a very useful plant. For example, a person can eat the leaves, seeds, and root of the plant. People in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia cook the leaves by first steaming them. Then they crush the leaves and combine them with good tasting spices and vegetables. They also use the root of the plant for food. They cook it, smash it, and mix it with tomato fruit. The ground seeds can be used to make bread. The seeds can also be cooked in water and eaten as a grain.

Voice 2 

Amaranth is also very good for you. The seeds have a high amount of the necessary substance, protein. This nutrient is very important for keeping a person’s body strong and healthy. Many people in the world get protein by eating meat. However, people who are poorer often cannot buy meat. And it can be difficult for them to get enough protein. Amaranth is one way to solve this problem. It does not cost a lot of money and it has plenty of protein.

Voice 1 

For these reasons, amaranth has again become more popular in the last 40 years. Experts believe amaranth can help the economy and health of whole communities. Good examples of this are found in the country of Uganda.

Voice 2 

Uganda is currently experiencing a food crisis. The cost of food is rising. Many people do not get enough healthy food. In this area, AIDS and HIV affect many people. Good healthy food can make AIDS treatment more effective.

Voice 1 

For these reasons, the organization Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, or CRWRC, teaches farmers in Uganda how to grow amaranth. The CRWRC provides small loans to farmers. The farmers use this money to buy amaranth seeds. When the plants are fully grown, the farmers harvest them. Harvesting is difficult work. It requires many people. So, farmers often have to pay people to help them.  This provides jobs for other people in the community. After the harvest, the farmers sell the healthy amaranth seeds to people in the local community.

Voice 2 

Partners Worldwide is another organization working with amaranth in Uganda. A young woman named Innocent Muhabwa helped begin the program.  She trained a group of local women to grow amaranth. The women decided to harvest the amaranth and use it to make bread.  They tried to sell their bread in the market. However, there was a problem. No one bought it.

Voice 1 

Then one woman named Marium Mandu had an idea. She told Partners Worldwide,

Voice 3 

“No one sells soft, cooked grain or porridge at the market. But everyone in Uganda eats it every day!”

Voice 2 

So, the women started making amaranth porridge. They sold it to schools, hospitals, and small medical centers. People loved it! They ordered more and more porridge. Now, the women are able to earn money to support their families. But amaranth is not just good for the farmers and women who sell amaranth porridge. It is also good for the Ugandans eating amaranth.

Voice 1 

Ahmad Kyagulani told the internet website African Agriculture,

Voice 4 

“We began eating amaranth in my home. Now, we visit health centers less often.”

Voice 2 

Amaranth can strengthen the immune systems of people’s bodies. It can help the body fight and recover from diseases. This can protect people from diseases in high-risk areas. Ida Kaastra Mutoigo is from the CRWRC. She told the Banner,

Voice 5 

“Amaranth in Uganda and Kenya has really helped strengthen people’s immune systems. Some HIV-positive people do not recognize what eating healthy foods can do.”

Voice 1 

For many years people forgot about the amazing amaranth plant. They forgot how to grow, harvest, and eat it. But more and more people are starting to understand what a wonderful grain amaranth is. There are no easy answers to the problem of world hunger. But amaranth can make an important difference for poor and hungry people everywhere.

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Johanna Poole. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, ‘Amaranth: The Amazing Grain’.

Voice 1 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Do you enjoy healthy foods? What healthy foods are your favorites?


Avatar Spotlight
said on December 07, 2011

I feel very proud that a Mexican grain could be the solution for hunger problems, around the world. It’s not a bragging attitude, none the less Mexico, contributed with lots of food to the world, for example: tomatoes, vanilla, chocolate, corn and many others.

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on November 17, 2016

I think that a good idea especially in the third world but the problem that governments corruption and lack of planning there.
I enjoy fruits and vegetables.
God bless you

Avatar Spotlight
Jesús velasquez
said on November 17, 2016

Yes I do. I like eat fruits and vegetables, like plantains, bananas, pears, apples, orange, and grains. In Venezuela there are many kinds of fruits and vegetables . Greetings

Avatar Spotlight
Miguel Criollo
said on November 17, 2016

I enjoy eat healthy food like fruits. In my country Ecuador There are many kinds of fruits in all seasons of the year.
Healthy Grains is other kind of products who produce in four diferent regions.
My favorite food is quinua soup is making with the gold grain of Andes “the quinua”

Avatar Spotlight
said on November 17, 2016

Amaranth is a useful, nearly marvelous grain in many respects mainly due to easy growing even in the difficult conditions. It can be grown in any kind of soil and it grows very quickly producing a lot of seeds. People can utilize a whole plant eating its leaves, seeds and root too.
Amaranth contains a high amount of important nutrient - protein, therefore it can substitute meat at least partly. I suppose this plant might help solving the problem of world hunger in future, in particular concerning poor people in some areas.
Of course, all of us should try to eat healthy food including the products made of Amaranth grain that are being sold in the European shops with so called ‘‘Healthy nutrition’’ nowadays.
Thanks Spotlight team for another great article!

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on November 19, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)(Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the questions above
Date: Saturday 19, November 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Johanna Pole, Joshua Leo, and Michio Ozaki:

At first, I want to thank you for bringing for us readers and learners of English more one great article, thanks!
Yes, I do. My favorite healthy foods are fruits, vegetables, green vegetables, fish, and grains.

The best regards,
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on July 11, 2019

For several years I have had a balanced food, including vegetables, fruits, grains, and meats. Recently, I diminish red meat and it had proved to be a good idea. I became thinner and more healthy.