Quinoa grains and amaranth grains look so similar that you wonder if they’re actually the same product.
They come from the same plant family and are quite similar nutritionally, but there are differences.
Both of South American origin, the Aztecs grew amaranth as a staple food while the Incas grew quinoa. The growing conditions needed for both are exactly the same. In fact, both thrive well in difficult conditions and poor soil. Their native cultivation site was at high altitude in the mountains. Nowadays they are grown in the USA and South America and with improved growing conditions both plants are easy to produce. You harvest 3 – 6 months after sowing.
The 2 main differences from a culinary point of view are:-
size of the grains
Amaranth seeds are quite a bit smaller than quinoa seeds. They come in the same colors of white, cream, red or black, although I have to say I’ve only seen white and cream available in stores so far. You would probably have to grow your own to get the others. They are better for thickening soups and casseroles as they almost disappear over long cooking times. The appearance of both grains is similar and both have the well-known “tail” after cooking. (try and see)
Quinoa has a coating of saponins, which have a bitter taste. these must be rinsed off before cooking. Amaranth does not have these saponins and therefore does not require the same level of preparation. Coating with these saponins was a problem in getting quinoa onto the western world’s plate. In the last 3 or 4 years, manufacturers have pre-washed the quinoa, so now you don’t usually need to pre-wash the quinoa.
In summary, these two grains have almost identical nutritional profiles. The smaller size of the amaranth grain is suitable for soups, curries and casseroles. The quinoa grain always works better in salads and stir-fries where the quinoa can still be seen and eaten.
Thanks to Ken H Jones