A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a friend about the Vegan crunchy pancakes recipe I posted. She asked me what was that funny looking thing called “amaranth”. I was surprised, since I was born and raised Mexican and relocated to Europe just a couple of years ago. I thought I should talk about these healthy foods that have always been a common name to me and that are now taking over the world and getting to know more and more about their healthy benefits.
So here are four natural ingredients I grew up with back in my country. If you are still craving chocolate after Easter, a quick vegan recipe of Peanut chocolate crunchy balls with, by the way, all ancient 'Mexican' ingredients. I hope you start using these healthy options!
A small grain grown in a big leafy green-purple plant. When toasted this grain pops like popcorn, the taste is earthy and texture is very soft.
Known to the Aztecs, it is thought to have represented up to 80% of their calorie consumption before the European conquest and was also used as currency. Another important use of amaranth throughout Mesoamerica was to prepare ritual drinks and foods. Conquers saw the importance of it, so it was banned to cultivate and the plant was almost extinguished. “Amaranto” in Spanish, now in Mexico is mostly used popped, you can find it sold on the streets mixed with honey and caramel to make a sweet treat called alegría, meaning “joy".
100g of amaranth has twice as much calcium as 100ml of milk and so lots of iron, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and the amino acid lysine. The aztecs believed it had life-extending-effects. Now its even popular with astronauts in outer space.
2. Chia Seeds
Native to Mexico and Guatemala. It was cultivated by the Aztecs in pre-Columbian times, it was also used as currency and as maize, as one of the main grains to feed. The word "chia" is derived from the Nahuatl word (native Mexican language) chian, meaning oily.
It's almost tasteless with a hint of sweetness. Chia seeds are a rich source of the B vitamins, and are a rich source of minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc and protein. High intensity athletes use chia seeds as a protein supplement.
Chia seeds are mostly used to add to other foods as a topping or put into smoothies, breakfast cereals, energy bars, granola bars, yoghurt and bread. When soaked it produces a gel 10 times its weight that can be used to replace egg content and oil in cakes while providing other nutrients.
3. Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera is part of the succulent plant family, with more than 200 types of plants, grown mainly on the tropical and subtropical weather. For it to be ready for our use it has to grow at least 3 years until it produces the active substances.
Aloe Vera is used in western culture since the 1990’s. Ancient cultures throughout Mesoamerica used its healing powers, for simple scratches to the healing of more severe diseases. I still remember we had a couple of these plants in our garden, as kids we were afraid of it since it has thorns. But my mother used it from time to time to put the gel on her skin or blended it and drank it as a smoothie.
Now, its easily found as gel for healing, moisturising and to calm burned and itchy skin. You can also drink the juice to cleanse and hydrate your body also supports your immune system. Try to use it always in organic version.
4. Agave Syrup
As we all know Tequila is the most famous Mexican drink, it comes from the Agave, which has been used for thousands of years as an ingredient in food. The nectar made from the plant is known in Mexico as aguamiel, or "honey water”. The Aztecs thought about the agave as a gift from the gods and used the liquid from its core to flavour foods and drinks. The agave to be ready to use has to grow 7 to 10 years! Then the leaves are cut and the juice of the centre of the plant its heated to produce the nectar.
Agave syrup is high in fructose so use it moderately as a substitute of sugar or honey.
Peanut chocolate crunchy balls recipe
Approx. 15 pieces
1/2 cup of crunchy peanut butter
1 tablespoon of organic cocoa
2 tablespoons agave syrup
1 pinched grounded vanilla
1/4 cup popped amaranth plus a little more for decoration
Mix together the peanut butter, cocoa, agave syrup, and vanilla until smooth. Fold in the popped amaranth, form into pralines and sprinkle a bit more amaranth on them. Let cool in the refrigerator for approx. 15 min.
Photo Credit: daniekunzphoto.com