The amaranth is a weed of vegetable value
The spiny amaranth is an underutilized green leafy vegetable that are generally considered as weed especially in upland crops farming or in gardening yet it could add up to the list of nutritious leafy vegetable. In some varieties, the are used not only for their green leaves but seeds or grain as well.
Even the spiny amaranth is a vegetable
One would not realize it now but one of the most common weeds in the world may soon become one of the most important vegetables in the future. This weed is Amaranthus spp. It is a weed in many corn farms and other upland crop areas in the Philippines. They even grow in abandoned fields and along roadsides and creeks. One of the species that many Filipino farmers are familiar with is that thorny weed, spinach-like plant, known in the botanical world as Amaranthus spinosus or kwantung to the Ilocanos although there are many other varieties. It is an unexplored plant, yet, it may be the answer to the growing concern of improving nutrition and quality of life for people in developing countries, according to a Science magazine in 1997.
A noted vegetable specialist in the Philippines, Dr. Eufemio T. Rasco, said in his “Notes on Underutilized or Unrecognized Leafy Vegetables: for their Commercial and Nutritional Importance”, that Amaranthus spp. are widely distributed, short-lived weeds, the leaves of which are frequently used as potherbs. More than 50 species in both tropical and temperate regions are used in this manner; some yield seeds of high food value which are eaten as grain. It is a plant with C-4 cycle photosynthetic activity that makes it an efficient producer of carbohydrates. Some cultivars are markedly short-day plants with regards to flowering.
The oxalic acid content in the leaves is fairly high. However, the review made by Ramsey L. Sealy and group in 1990, indicated that oxalates can comprise 0.2 – 11.4% of the dry matter in vegetable amaranths but levels of oxalates are significantly reduced by steaming or boiling leaves for 10 minutes, which does not significantly reduce nutrient levels.
Rasco further revealed that the best quality Amaranthus is probably Amaranthus ganeticus or Chinese spinach. It is superior in food value to the common spinach, the Spinacia oleracea.
Other varieties are for seeds and green leaf
In countries like the U. S. and India where amaranths is cultivated, there are a good number of cultivars identified for seed grains and leafy vegetables or both. In general, species in the Amaranth family produce foliage rich in vitamins and other nutrients. The leaves are an excellent source of calcium, iron and folic acid. According to the review of Sealy and group, the leaves of vegetable amaranths are high in protein (17.4 – 38.3% of dry matter); the protein is 5% lysine and 4.4% sulfur-containing amino acids, both limiting in many vegetables and cereal grains.
In addition, the leaves are nutritionally significant sources of carbohydrates, several vitamins and minerals and dietary fibers. Sensory evaluation made by a judging panel indicated very acceptable result.
Amaranths just quickly sprout in the field usually at the beginning of the rainy season. In the Philippines, where the kwantung is known to many rural farmers, the tender tops of young plants are gathered for vegetables. This is at the stage where they are not yet flowering. Sometimes, seedlings of around three weeks old that abounds as weeds in the field during the season are just uprooted and the tops or even the whole seedlings are used for vegetables. How they are used in preparing for a viand is very similar to tops of sweet potatoes, alugbati and kangkong. The tops may also be steamed and boiled and dip in fish sauce with vinegar or calamansi.