Have you heard of amaranth before? This teeny, tiny gluten-free grain is on track to reach superfood status with its health benefits and the multitude of ways that it can be prepared. Much like quinoa and the Incas, the Aztecs upheld amaranth as a sacred crop and used the grains to make ceremonial foods for religious ceremonies.
Amaranth is a purplish-red flowering plant that can reach heights of up to 6 feet with beautiful edible leaves. When the flower itself is dried the yellowish pinhead-sized amaranth seeds are easily shaken out. These earthy seeds can then be ground into flour, cooked like cereal, or even popped like miniature popcorn without the oil. Neat huh?!
I first learned about popping amaranth and serving it as a customizable breakfast cereal from a post on Edible Perspective a few years ago and I'm not sure what took me so long to try it myself. Although I don't think you will find me standing in the kitchen popping it for breakfast, I do happen to like it mixed into my favorite portable breakfast food -- granola bars.
After having popped amaranth a few times now, I have some helpful tips for you:
- Make sure your pan is hot enough. If the amaranth doesn't start popping almost immediately, the pan needs to heat longer.
- Allow for a few test batches. Much like popping popcorn for the first time, it will take a few times to get into your groove.
- Accept the fact that not all of the amaranth will pop. If you wait for the last few grains to pop, inevitably some of your amaranth will be burned. The little unpopped grains are fine and can be eaten as well, so just throw them in the mixing bowl along with the popped ones.
- 1 cup raw almonds roughly chopped
- 1 cup rolled oats
- ¼ cup hemp hearts
- ⅓ cup raw sunflower seeds
- ⅓ cup amaranth
- ⅓ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- ½ cup honey
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup crispy brown rice cereal
- ½ cup dried blueberries
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Spread the almonds, oats, hemp hearts, and sunflower seeds on the baking sheet and bake for 8-12 minutes, or until fragrant and lightly toasted. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
- Heat a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. Test to see if it's ready by adding a drop of water to the pot. If it dances across the bottom of the pan and evaporates, you're good to go. Add 1 tablespoon of amaranth to the pan, place the lid over the top, and slide the pan back and forth to pop. The amaranth should pop within 10-12 seconds. Pour the popped amaranth into the large mixing bowl with the oats and nuts then repeat the process with the remaining amaranth one tablespoon at a time.
- In a saucepan, bring the brown sugar, honey, butter, and salt to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the sugar dissolves and a light brown caramel forms, about 5 minutes -- don't let it over-cook! Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. (Be careful at this point -- the addition of the vanilla extract will cause the mixture to splatter.)
- Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper; extend the paper over the sides of the pan to use as a handle later.
- Pour the caramel over the nut and oat mixture. Stir in the brown rice cereal and the blueberries until incorporated. Pour the cereal mixture into the prepared baking dish and spread it out into an even layer. Cover the pan with a second piece of parchment and use the bottom of a glass or your hands to firmly press down on the granola mixture to compress the bars. When the top of the granola bar mixture is evenly compressed and you cannot press the mixture in any further, let the granola bars sit for 2-4 hours at room temperature until firm and completely set.
- Discard the top piece of parchment and use the “handles” from the second piece of parchment to gently remove the cereal square from the pan then cut the squares into 8 large meal replacement sized bars or 16 snack size bars.