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Amaranth

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For other uses, see Amaranth (disambiguation). Amaranthus Amaranthus caudatus Scientific classification Kingdom: Plantae Division: Magnoliophyta Class: Magnoliopsida Order: Caryophyllales Family: Amaranthaceae Subfamily: Amaranthoideae Genus: Amaranthus L. Species Amaranthus acanthochiton greenstripe Amaranthus acutilobius sharp-lobe amaranth Amaranthus albus white pigweed, prostrate pigweed, pigweed amaranth Amaranthus arenicola sandhill amaranth Amaranthus australis southern amaranth Amaranthus bigelovii Bigelow's amaranth Amaranthus blitoides mat amaranth, prostrate amaranth, prostrate pigweed Amaranthus blitum purple amaranth Amaranthus brownii Brown's amaranth Amaranthus californicus California amaranth, California pigweed Amaranthus cannabinus tidal-marsh amaranth Amaranthus caudatus love-lies-bleeding, pendant amaranth, tassel flower, quilete Amaranthus chihuahuensis chihuahuan amaranth Amaranthus chlorostachys Amaranthus crassipes spreading amaranth Amaranthus crispus crispleaf amaranth Amaranthus cruentus purple amaranth, red amaranth, Mexican grain amaranth Amaranthus deflexus large-fruit amaranth Amaranthus dubius spleen amaranth, khada sag Amaranthus fimbriatus fringed amaranth, fringed pigweed Amaranthus floridanus Florida amaranth Amaranthus gangeticus elephant head amaranth Amaranthus graecizans Amaranthus greggii Gregg's amaranth Amaranthus hybridus smooth amaranth, smooth pigweed, red amaranth Amaranthus hypochondriacus Prince-of-Wales-feather, princess feather Amaranthus leucocarpus Amaranthus lineatus Australian amaranth Amaranthus lividus Amaranthus mantegazzianus Quinoa de Castilla Amaranthus minimus Amaranthus muricatus African amaranth Amaranthus obcordatus Trans-Pecos amaranth Amaranthus oleraceous Kosala Sag Amaranthus palmeri Palmer's amaranth, palmer pigweed, careless weed Amaranthus paniculus Reuzen amarant Amaranthus polygonoides tropical amaranth Amaranthus powellii green amaranth, Powell amaranth, Powell pigweed Amaranthus pringlei Pringle's amaranth Amaranthus pumilus seaside amaranth Amaranthus quitensis ataco, sangorache Amaranthus retroflexus red-root amaranth, redroot pigweed, common amaranth Amaranthus rudis tall amaranth, common waterhemp Amaranthus scleropoides bone-bract amaranth Amaranthus spinosus spiny amaranth, prickly amaranth, thorny amaranth Amaranthus standleyanus Amaranthus thunbergii Thunberg's amaranth Amaranthus torreyi Torrey's amaranth Amaranthus tricolor Joseph's-coat Amaranthus tuberculatus rough-fruit amaranth, tall waterhemp Amaranthus viridis slender amaranth, green amaranth Amaranthus watsonii Watson's amaranth Amaranthus wrightii Wright's amaranth

Amaranthus, collectively known as amaranth, is a cosmopolitan genus of herbs. Approximately 60 species are recognized, with inflorescences and foliage ranging from purple and red to gold. Members of this genus share many characteristics and uses with members of the closely related genus Celosia.

Although several species are often considered weeds, people around the world value amaranths as leaf vegetables, cereals, and ornamentals.

The word comes from the Greek amarantos (Αμάρανθος or Αμάραντος) the ``one that does not wither,`` or the never-fading (flower).

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Systematics

Amaranthus shows a wide variety of morphological diversity among and even within certain species. Although the family (Amaranthaceae) is distinctive, the genus has few distinguishing characters among the 70 species included.[1] This complicates taxonomy and Amaranthus has generally been considered among systematists as a “difficult” genus.[2]

Formerly, Sauer (1955) classified the genus into 2 sub-genera, differentiating only between monoecious and dioecious species: Acnida (L.) Aellen ex K.R. Robertson and Amaranthus.[2] Although this classification was widely accepted, further infrageneric classification was (and still is) needed to differentiate this widely diverse group.

Currently, Amaranthus includes 3 recognized sub-genera and 70 species, although species numbers are questionable due to hybridization and species concepts.[3] Infrageneric classification focuses on inflorescence, flower characters and whether a species is monoecious/dioecious, as in the Sauer (1955) suggested classification.[1] A modified infrageneric classification of Amaranthus was published by Mosyakin & Robertson (1996) and includes 3 subgenera: Acnida, Amaranthus and Albersia. The taxonomy is further differentiated by sections within each of the sub-genera.[4]

Uses

Grain amaranth

A traditional food plant in Africa, this vegetable has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable landcare.[5]

Several species are raised for amaranth grain in Asia and the Americas. Ancient amaranth grains still used to this day include the three species, Amaranthus caudatus, Amaranthus cruentus, and Amaranthus hypochondriacus.[6] Although amaranth was (and still is) cultivated on a small scale in parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, India, and Nepal, there is potential for further cultivation in the U.S and tropical countries and it is often referred to as ``the crop of the future.``[7] It has been proposed as an inexpensive native crop that could be cultivated by indigenous people in rural areas for several reasons: 1) easily harvested, 2) produces a lot of fruits (and thus seeds) which are used as grain, 3) highly tolerant of arid environments which are typical of most subtropical and some tropical regions, and 4) large amounts of protein and essential amino acids, such as lysine.[8] Due to its weedy life history, amaranth grains grow very rapidly and their large seedheads can weigh up to 1 kilogram and contain a half-million seeds.[9] Amaranthus species are reported to have a 30% higher protein value than cereals, such as rice, wheat flour, oats, and rye.[10]

Amaranth grain is a crop of moderate importance in the Himalaya. It was one of the staple foodstuffs of the Incas, and it is known as kiwicha in the Andes today. It was also used by the ancient Aztecs, who called it huautli, and other Native America peoples in Mexico to prepare ritual drinks and foods. To this day, amaranth grains are toasted much like popcorn and mixed with honey, molasses or chocolate to make a treat called alegría (happiness in Spanish).

Amaranth was used in several Aztec ceremonies, where images of their gods (notably Huitzilopochtli) were made with amaranth mixed with honey. The images were cut to be eaten by the people. This looked like the Christian communion to the Roman Catholic priests, so the cultivation of the grain was forbidden for centuries.[citation needed]

Because of its importance as a symbol of indigenous culture, and because it is very palatable, easy to cook, and its protein particularly well suited to human nutritional needs, interest in grain amaranth (especially A. cruentus and A. hypochondriacus) was revived in the 1970s. It was recovered in Mexico from wild varieties and is now commercially cultivated. It is a popular snack sold in Mexico City and other parts of Mexico, sometimes mixed with chocolate or puffed rice, and its use has spread to Europe and parts of North America. Amaranth and quinoa are called pseudograins because of their flavor and cooking similarities to grains. These are dicot plant seeds, and both contain exceptionally complete protein for plant sources. Besides protein, amaranth grain provides a good source of dietary fiber and dietary minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and especially manganese. People have also found it beneficial to prevent the premature greying of the hair folicles.[citation needed][verification needed]

Vegetables

Amaranth species are cultivated and consumed as a leaf vegetable in many parts of the world. There are 4 species of Amaranthus documented as cultivated vegetables in eastern Asia: Amaranthus cruentus, Amaranthus blitum, Amaranthus dubius, and Amaranthus tricolor.[11]

In Indonesia and Malaysia, leaf amaranth is called bayam, while the Tagalogs in the Philippines call the plant kulitis. In Karnataka state in India it is used to prepare Hulli. Palya, Maggigayhulli and so on. In Tamilnadu State, it is regularly consumed as a favourite dish, where the greens are steamed, and mashed, with light seasoning of salt, red chillis and cumin. It is called keerai masial (கீரை மசியல்). In Andhra Pradesh, India, this leaf is added in preparation of a popular dal called thotakura pappu. In China, the leaves and stems are used as a stir-fry vegetable and called yin choi (苋菜; pinyin: xiàncài; and variations on this transliteration in various dialects). In Vietnam, it is called rau dền and is used to make soup. There are two species popular as edible vegetable in Vietnam: dền đỏ- amaranthus tricolor and dền cơm or dền trắng- amaranthus viridis.

In East Africa, Amaranth leaf is known in Chewa as Bonongwe, and in Swahili as mchicha. It is sometimes recommended by some doctors for people having low red blood cell count. Also known among the Kalenjin as a drought crop (chepkerta). In West Africa such as in Nigeria, it is a common vegetable, and goes with all Nigerian carbohydrate dishes. It is known in Yoruba as efo tete or arowo jeja (``we have money left over for fish``). In Congo[clarification needed] it is known as lenga lenga or biteku teku.[12] In the Caribbean, the leaves are called callaloo and are sometimes used in a soup called pepperpot soup.

In Greece, Green Amaranth (Amaranthus viridis) is a popular dish and is called vleeta. It's boiled, then served with olive oil and lemon like a salad, usually alongside fried fish. Greeks stop harvesting the (usually wild-grown) plant when it starts to bloom at the end of August.

Dyes

The flowers of the 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth were used by the Hopi Amerindians as the source of a deep red dye. There is also a synthetic dye that has been named ``amaranth`` for its similarity in color to the natural amaranth pigments known as betalains. This synthetic dye is also known as Red No. 2 in North America and E123 in the European Union.[13]

Ornamentals

The genus also contains several well-known ornamental plants, such as Amaranthus caudatus (love-lies-bleeding), a native of India and a vigorous, hardy annual with dark purplish flowers crowded in handsome drooping spikes. Another Indian annual, A. hypochondriacus (prince's feather), has deeply-veined lance-shaped leaves, purple on the under face, and deep crimson flowers densely packed on erect spikes.

Amaranths are recorded as food plants for some Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species including the Nutmeg and various case-bearers of the genus Coleophora: C. amaranthella, C. enchorda (feeds exclusively on Amaranthus), C. immortalis (feeds exclusively on Amaranthus), C. lineapulvella and C. versurella (recorded on A. spinosus).

Nutritional value

Amaranth greens, also called Chinese spinach, hinn choy or yin tsoi (simplified Chinese: 苋菜; traditional Chinese: 莧菜; pinyin: xiàncài); callaloo, dhantinasoppu (Kannada); తోటకూర (Telugu); Rajgira (Marathi); முளைக் கீரை (Tamil), cheera ചീര (Malayalam); bayam (Indonesian); phak khom ผักโขม (Thai); tampala, or quelite, are a common leaf vegetable throughout the tropics and in many warm temperate regions. It is very popular in India. They are a very good source of vitamins including vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin C, riboflavin, and folate, and dietary minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese. Because of its valuable nutrition, some farmers grow amaranth today. However their moderately high content of oxalic acid inhibits the absorption of calcium and zinc, and also means that they should be avoided or eaten in moderation by people with kidney disorders, gout, or rheumatoid arthritis.[citation needed] Reheating cooked amaranth greens is often discouraged, particularly for consumption by small children, as the nitrates in the leaves can be converted to nitrites, similarly to spinach.[citation needed]

Amaranth seeds, like buckwheat and quinoa, contain protein that is unusually complete for plant sources.[14] Most fruits and vegetables do not contain a complete set of amino acids, and thus different sources of protein must be used.

Its seeds have a protein content greater than that of wheat. However, unlike that found in true grains (i.e. from grass seeds) its protein is not of the problematical type known as gluten.[15]

Several studies have shown that like oats, amaranth seed or oil may be of benefit for those with hypertension and cardiovascular disease; regular consumption reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while improving antioxidant status and some immune parameters.[16][17][18] While the active ingredient in oats appears to be water-soluble fiber, amaranth appears to lower cholesterol via its content of plant stanols and squalene.

As a weed

Not all amaranth plants are cultivated. Most of the species from Amaranthus are summer annual weeds and are commonly referred to as pigweeds.[19] These species have an extended period of germination, rapid growth, and high rates of seed production[19] and have been causing problems for farmers since the mid-1990s. This is partially due to the reduction in tillage, reduction in herbicidal use and the evolution of herbicidal resistance in several species where herbicides have been applied more often.[20] The following 9 species of Amaranthus are considered invasive and noxious weeds in the U.S and Canada: A. albus, A. blitoides, A. hybridus, A. palmeri, A. powellii, A. retroflexus, A. spinosus, A. tuberculatus, and A. viridis.[21]

A new strain of the Palmer amaranth has appeared which is Glyphosate-resistant and so cannot be killed by the widely used Roundup herbicide. Also, this plant can survive in tough conditions. This could be of particular concern to cotton farmers using Roundup Ready cotton.[22] The species Amaranthus palmeri (Palmer amaranth) causes the greatest reduction in soybean yields and has the potential to reduce yields by 17-68% in field experiments.[19] Palmer amaranth is among the “top five most troublesome weeds” in the southeast and has already evolved resistances to dinitroanilines and acetolactate synthase inhibitors.[23] This makes the proper identification of Amaranthus species at the seedling stage essential for agriculturalists. Proper herbicide treatment needs to be applied before the species successfully colonizes in the crop field and causes significant yield reductions.

Myth, legend and poetry

Amaranth, or Amarant (from the Greek amarantos, unwithering), a name chiefly used in poetry, and applied to Amaranth and other plants which, from not soon fading, typified immortality.