By Sue Becker

Considered a super-grain by many, amaranth is technically not a grain at all. Amaranth is the seed of a tall flowering plant with broad green leaves and bright colorful flowers. The plants can grow up to 7 feet tall and have thick tough stems, similar to the sunflower plant, yet the tiny seeds of the flower are only about the size of a poppy seed.  The seeds are usually white or cream colored but less common varieties might be red or purple. Amaranth adapts easily to adverse growing conditions and is extremely drought resistant. Its name comes from the Greek word, “amarantos”, which means “one that does not wither”, or “the never fading”, as the beautiful bushy flowers retain their color even after cutting and drying. The entire amaranth plant is harvested and used - the leaves are eaten as a vegetable, the seeds are used for food, and the flowers are used for decorations.  

For several thousand years, amaranth has played an important role in various cultures around the world. In Asian cultures it was called “king seed” and “seed sent by God” as a tribute to its unique flavor and source of strength and nourishment. Perhaps the most well-known historical account of amaranth is its part in the Aztec civilization. Valued both nutritionally and spiritually it was believed to give the average man superhuman strength or turn a “weak man” into a “warrior”. Its reputation as a super food is not without merit and interest in this pseudo-grain is certainly being revived.

Nutritional profile

Amaranth is classified as a pseudo grain, along with buckwheat and quinoa, because although it comes from a different species of plants than other cereal grains, like wheat, oats and barley, it has a similar nutritional composition to other common grains.  Like other grains it is high in fiber and a good source of essential fatty acids. It is a good source of iron, magnesium, and phosphorus and an excellent source of manganese and vitamin B6. It has 3 times the calcium as most other grains and is the only grain with a substantial amount of vitamin C.

Amaranth is a protein powerhouse. It is considered a complete protein because it contains all the essential amino acids including lysine, which is usually lacking in most cereal grains. With a protein content of 12 to17 % it is comparable to animal protein, making it a great food for growing children and vegans.

Studies show that amaranth may have cancer preventing, cholesterol lowering and anti-inflammatory properties. Amaranth is an excellent source of dietary fiber, having 3 times the amount found in wheat. Some nutritionist are advocating amaranth to help fight obesity in children.

Buying, storing and milling

Amaranth is easy to grow but very tedious to harvest, so will cost more than most grains. It should be stored in a moisture proof, airtight container. Smaller quantities can be stored in the freezer if desired. Stored properly amaranth will keep indefinitely. Because of its small size, when milling amaranth into flour with an electric mill, it is best to pour the seeds slowly into the mill hopper. Some electric mills make a small grain attachment cup that allows you to pour all the amaranth into the milling hopper at once as it will slowly feed the seeds into the milling heads for you.

Baking Characteristics

Amaranth is naturally gluten free. Amaranth has a complex range of flavors. Most describe the flavor as earthy or grassy, to light, nutty and even peppery. Traditionally amaranth was eaten as a breakfast porridge, popular in India, Nepal, Mexico and Peru. It is best cooked with other grains, using 2-3 parts liquid to 1 part grain, letting the alternate grain determine the cooking time. Using a strong flavored liquid, such as beef broth for a savory dish and apple or orange juice for a porridge, may offset the distinct flavor of amaranth. Cooked alone, amaranth has a very sticky texture which may not appeal to everyone. The sticky texture can be improved by using 6 cups (1.5L) of liquid for every 1 cup (250 mL) amaranth and cooked for 20 to 25 minutes. All of the liquid will not be absorbed but the amaranth can be drained and rinsed to remove the thick, sticky liquid. Because of its gelatinous texture, amaranth makes a great thickener for soups and sauces and can be added in the last 30 minutes of cooking time.

Amaranth is unique in that it can be popped and eaten much like popcorn. In fact, in Mexico, a popular, sweet treat known as alegria, is made by mixing popped amaranth with honey or sugar. To pop amaranth, simple heat a dry skillet on high heat until very hot. Sprinkle in about 1 tablespoon (15mL) of amaranth at a time. Shake the pan back and forth over the heat to keep the amaranth from burning while the kernels of grain pop.  The popped kernels of amaranth are of course much smaller than popped corn.

Milled into flour, amaranth gives a very moist texture to baked goods. Amaranth flour can be used alone in quick breads, such as muffins and pancakes, but again is best with the addition of ingredients like chocolate or citrus that can temper its earthy tones. For yeast bread, amaranth can be added to wheat to boost the protein content and nutritional value but since it has no gluten should be used in ratios of no more than 1:4 (1/4 cup (60 mL) of amaranth to 1 cup (250 mL of wheat flour). For a gluten free yeast bread, amaranth will work best combined with other gluten free grains such as brown rice or sorghum flours. Starches such as tapioca and arrowroot as well as xanthan gum will have to be used to provide structure to the dough for yeast leavening.  Amaranth is a food worth discovering and incorporating into any healthy eating menu plan. The muffing recipe below will soon become a family favorite.


The Beta-Glucans of Barley and Oats

The “what”? 

Ok, I’m writing a book on home flour milling which has lead me to do more research on the health benefits of whole grains. In my 20+ years of teaching I would have to say that I have acquired a good bit of information that I love to share with others.  In the past weeks, however, I have been devouring every bit of information I can get my hands on, and I must say I am more than excited.  Beta-glucans are just one of my most recent “discoveries”.

Beta-glucans are a polysaccharide found in the soluble fiber of most whole grains but have particularly high concentrations in both barley and oats. There has been an increased interest in the past 20 years of the nutritional benefits of beta-glucans.  Of all the components of fiber studied for their function and contribution to health, beta-glucans have been the most extensively documented.

Nutritionally beta-glucans trigger a cascade of events in the human body that help regulate the immune system, making it more efficient.  Beta-glucans stimulate activity of macrophages.  Macrophages ingest and demolish invading pathogens and stimulate other immune cells to attack invaders.  Macrophages also release cytokines, which enable immune cells to communicate with each other.  Beta-glucans also stimulate white blood cells that bind to tumor cells and viruses and release chemicals to destroy these cells.  Studies also show that beta-glucans reduced the incidence of infection in patients with high risk surgeries, as well as shortened intensive care unit stay and improved survival rate.  Bottom line – of all the polysaccharides studied that act as immunostimulants, beta-glucans were found to be the most effective against infectious disease and cancer. 

Beta-glucans form a viscous solution in the gut which slows digestion and absorption giving a feeling of fullness for much longer and is the basis for many of the health benefits.  Beta-glucans have also been found to improve insulin response, lower cholesterol levels, and to restore the activity of gut organisms.

So maybe all of this information doesn’t excite you as much as me.  However, it may at least inspire you to eat more barley and oats.  For most of us oats are easy.  A bowl of oatmeal or granola, and who doesn’t love an oatmeal cookie.  Barley on the other hand may be a little more challenging to incorporate. 

Barley is sold in two forms, hulled and pearled.  Hulled barley is more nutritious than pearled barley.  Pearled barley has some of the bran polished off, diminishing both the fiber and nutrient content.  Hulled barley can easily be substituted in any recipe calling for pearled barley.

I typically use soft wheat flour for my pastries and cookies, but I recently discovered that barley flour not only works well in cookies but actually adds a wonderful depth of flavor.  Here is a Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe using barley flour.  You will notice it is really just a basic cookie recipe.  So feel free to experiment with some of your favorite recipes substituting barley flour for soft wheat flour.  A cupful of rolled oats could be added as well to increase the beta-glucans even more!  


Chocolate Chip Cookies with Barley Flour


  • ¾ cups butter (1 ½ sticks) softened
  • 1 cup sucanat
  • ¼ cup honey granules
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups freshly milled hulled barley flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 

In mixing bowl, cream the softened butter with the sucanat and honey granules until well blended.  Add the eggs and vanilla extract and continue to beat until well blended. 

In a separate bowl combine the barley flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add the flour mixture 1 cup at the time to the butter mixture until well incorporated.  Stir in the chocolate chips. 

Scoop the dough onto baking sheets using a scoop or spoon using 2-3 Tablespoons of dough.  Bake in preheated oven for about 12-14 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned.  Let cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a plate to completely cool.  These cookies freeze well.


Braided Challah Bread

Celebrating the Sabbath

The first mention of the word challah is found in the Bible in Numbers 15:20.  God instructs the Israelites to "offer up a "cake" (challah) of the first of their dough for an offering to the Lord". Today, challah typically refers to the entire loaf of an egg-enriched yeast bread traditionally eaten by Jews on Shabbot (the Sabbath), ceremonial occasions and festival holidays.  On the Sabbath, two loaves, usually braided, are placed on the table to represent the double portion of manna that was provided by God for the Israelites in the wilderness to remind them that God will provide even if they refrain from working.

The braided loaves are a symbol of love, peace and unity.  As one goes through the 6-day work week our efforts are directed outward.  The idea of the Sabbath is one of unity, absorbing the blessings of our outward week’s work and directing them inward into our homes and lives.  The 6-strand braided loaf beautifully represents the intertwining of all the diversity in our lives throughout the week and bringing them together in unity and harmony.

So often today when we hear the word Sabbath our thoughts turn to a legalistic list of "don'ts" - don't work, don't travel, don't have fun.  Yet, truly experiencing a Sabbath, you will find it a great revelation that it is a day of refreshing and many "do's" - do spend time with friends and family, do relax and read, do enjoy a slower pace, do join the your community in worship and fellowship, do nap without feeling guilty about not doing work, do enjoy a day of rest.

A common greeting on the Sabbath is Shabbat Shalom, a peaceful Sabbath.  Most often we think of peace as simply the absence of conflict.  Shalom actually means to restore in the sense of replacing or providing what is needed in order to make someone or something whole or complete.  It means having no deficiency.  In reality, God made the Sabbath for man (Mark 2:27) so that we could cease (rest) from our work on the seventh day as He did so that we might be restored, renewed and refreshed.

The greeting, Shabbat Shalom, is actually a blessing:“May your day of no work be peaceful.  May you become whole and restored during your ceasing from laborious work.”

Rest from our work may take on many forms, but most importantly it allows us to simply enjoy life.  Perhaps we would look forward to our work week more enthusiastically if we paused to enjoy a Sabbath rest.

“It is not a matter of keeping the Sabbath but of the Sabbath keeping you.”

Braided Challah Bread

A rich, soft textured bread, perfect for any occasion!

  • 1 ½ cups warm water
  • ¼ cup oil
  • ½ cup honey
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 6-7 cups freshly milled hard wheat or spelt flour or your favorite combination
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons yeast
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten with 1 Tablespoon cold water
  • Poppy seed or sesame seed for topping if desired

In a large mixing bowl, combine water, oil, honey eggs and salt.  Gradually stir in 3-4 cups of the flour forming a thick batter.  While continuing to mix, sprinkle in the yeast.  Add the rest of the flour a little at the time to form a soft dough.  Let knead 8-10 minutes.  Cover and let rise until double.  Dough may then be divided to make  1 large braided loaf or 2 or 3 smaller loaves.  Brush loaves with beaten egg mixture and sprinkle with seeds as desired.  Let rise until double.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes depending on the size of the loaves or until the internal temperature reaches 180 degrees.

Directions for a beautiful 6-strand braid

There are several videos on the internet using several methods to get the same result.  I found this method to be the simplest to do.

1. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces and roll each piece into a rope about 12 inches long.  If sticky sprinkle with a little flour or add oil to your hands.

2. Connect the tops of each rope together, pressing firmly to secure.

3. Take the far right rope across the top, all the way over to the left forming a "T" with the other ropes.  Do the same with the far left rope taking it across the top all the way over to the right forming the other side of the "T".  At this point the ropes should look like a 4 legged creature with outstretched arms across the top.

4. Now take the 4 ropes that are the "legs" and separate them down the middle - 2 to the left and 2 to the right.

5. Starting with the top left part of the "T" - bring it down the middle of the 4 separated ropes.  Now take the rope that is on the far right (not top right) across the top, all the way over to the left replacing the left part of the "T" that was taken down the middle.

6. Separate what is now the 4 legs - 2 to the right and 2 to the left.

7. Take the top right part or the "T" and bring it down the middle of the 4 legs.  Now take the far left rope  across the top all the way over to the right, replacing the right part of the "T" that was taken down the middle.

8. Separate what is now the 4 legs - 2 to the right and 2 to the left.

9. Repeat the process again with the left part of the "T" then the right part of the "T" until the ropes are too short to continue.  Tuck ends under to fininsh.

10. Carefully place on prepared baking sheet.  Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with seeds as desired.

11.  Let rise and bake as directed.