A new ancient grain is edging out quinoa as a life-extending superfood (at least in my house): amaranth.

Amaranth and quinoa both are high in protein, can be milled into flour (a complex carbohydrate alternative to white white flour), and produce beautiful feathery plumes of seeds that look dramatic in a floral arrangement. So what makes amaranth superior?

Purple Amaranth leaves in the garden via Gardenista

Photograph by Kristen Taylor via Flickr.

Answer: amaranth leaves are as delicious as amaranth grains. In a different way, of course.

Amaranth leaves add a slightly sour kick—think kombucha-meets-lettuce—to a salad. (Yes, quinoa apologists, I know you can also eat quinoa leaves. But they're a little too leathery for me.)

Amaranth is easy to grow; last year I planted some in a sunny spot and noticed that its growth and vigor quickly outpaced the other leafy greens in the vegetable bed.

Power user tip: pick amaranth leaves when they're young and still tender (as Above) and toss them into the salad mix.

amaranth in the garden at slide ranch via Gardenista

Above: Photographs by Katie Newburn for Gardenista.

About 60 different species of amaranth have been identified; there are purple varieties, as well as yellow, green, red, and orange.

Purple amaranth leaves in bowl via Gardenista

Above: Photograph by Shanti, shanti via Flickr.

A favorite grain of the ancient Aztecs, amaranth mysteriously fell out of widespread use after the fall of that civilization for reasons that remain unclear. Researchers at the National Academy of Sciences have speculated the reason was that a small-seeded plant like amaranth needs to be babied and is harder to grow than a large-seeded plant like corn.

Amaranth seedlings in pot via Gardenista

Above: Photograph by Kelli Campbell via Flickr.

Milled into flour, amaranth has a distinctive taste that reminds me of grass. In a good way. Check back: tomorrow we'll be posting my favorite recipe for banana bread made with amaranth flour.

For more ways to use amaranth micro-greens, see A Chef's Secret Rooftop Garden.

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