Tehuacán Amaranth Mexico
Corn, beans, and amaranth were the principle features of the staple diet of pre-Hispanic people from Mexico down to Peru. Yet, unlike corn and beans, which have remained mainstays of the South American diet, amaranth has been almost completely abandoned. Significant for its nutritional properties and suitability to survive in the most arid regions, this resistant crop has been rediscovered in the last thirty years.
The Amaranthus hypochondriacus plant is native to the Tehuacán Valley and can reach two to three meters in height. It has large green leaves and magnificent flowers: brilliantly colored plumes of deep red with green and salmon-pink nuances.
Thanks to its beauty, amaranth used to be widely employed in celebrations and religious rituals, including some particularly cruel ones, which provoked Christian missionaries to ban its cultivation. Five hundred years after it was abandoned, a slow but significant effort to revive its use and reintroduce some amaranth varieties has had some success. Amaranth can enrich the poor diet of many indigenous peoples in Central and South America as it is rich in protein (particularly lysine, a key amino acid involved in growth processes). Amaranth can be eaten as a vegetable: the leaves are even richer in iron than spinach, which makes it an ideal addition to a young person’s diet. It can also be eaten in salads, soups or dried and used as a spice.
Toasted amaranth seeds are used to make traditional sweets such as alegría in Mexico. Alternatively, a flour can be produced for making tortillas (by mixing with corn flour), cakes and biscuits. Like buckwheat, amaranth also belongs to the category of minor cereals that do not contain gluten and thus can be used to make bread, pasta and biscuits for people with celiac disease.
The NGO Alternativas y Procesos de Participación Social (Alternatives and Projects for Civil Society), which has been working since 1980 to recover traditional knowledge, has organized cooperatives in 60 villages, involving 1,100 native families in the region of Mixteca. Each family now plants an average of a quarter of a hectare of amaranth, and in the rest of the plot of land (called milpa), the family plants a mix of corn, beans, peppers and pumpkin. The cooperatives have come together to create a larger cooperative capable of producing amaranth-based foodstuffs under a common brand name: Quali, meaning ‘good’ in the Náhuatl language. The Presidium is working in three main areas: promoting a traditional sweet food based on amaranth (alegría); setting up a center for exhibiting and selling amaranth in a ‘Water Museum’ and developing experimental amaranth-based products. Moreover, together with the University of Milan, a project entitled “The Rediscovery of Amaranth” has been developed, which worked to analyze new amaranth-based products suitable for gluten-free diets and alternative uses for the cereal.
Tehuacán valley, Puebla state
1100 families united in Alternativas y Procesos de Participación Social and in Grupo de Empresas Sociales Quali
Alternativas y Procesos de Participación Social
Grupo de Empresas Sociales Quali
Raúl Hernández Garciadiego
tel. +52 2383712533