Amaranth or Calaloo a staple of the Rastafarian Ital diet
What is Amaranth? Leaf amaranth grows all over the world but is a prominent among Jamaican plants and is cooked like spinach or silverbeet. Learn how to cook, grow and harvest leaf amaranth and information about the nutrition it contains.
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Common names: Chinese spinach, edible amaranth, bayan (Malaysia and Indonesia), Calaloo (Caribbean), klaroen (Surinam),Xian cai (Mandarin) Yin choi/in tsoi (Cantonese) Hi-yu-na, Jave hohrensoh (Japanese)
Origin American, Asian and African tropics but now spread all over the world. They are exceptionally nutritious and from ancient times seed and leaves of cultivated and wild forms have been used by man for food, medicine and animal fodder. Many exhibit striking colours in leaves and flowers and have been grown as ornamental plants in the west.
For practical purposes the Amaranthus species can be divided into the following groups according to their main use today. leafy Amaranths, grain Amaranths, decorative Amaranths and weeds.
The leaves of all Amaranths are edible hence any can be considered a vegetable. The leafy Amaranths are the best for cultivating. They are erect branching, short lived annuals with an average height of about 35cm-150cm when flowering.
Leaves are soft textured and go limp quickly after being picked. Both the leaves and stems are edible and delicious. The flavour can be described as ‘like artichokes’ and ‘spinach with a bit of a twang’. The flavour is strong and slightly hot in older plants. Indians prefer green leaved and Chinese the Red leaved. Leaves are very nutritious, rich in protein, iron, calcium and Vitamins A & C.
Very young leaves can be used in salads, eat the young stems as they are, cut the bottom inch off thicker stems and the older stems can be peeled. The Taiwanese rub the leaves to make them softer. Use like Spinach, but it does cook faster. Simply steam or stirfry. In China it is used in soup, leaves eaten seperately after being cooked in the soup first. In SE Asia they floavour it with mint.
Leafy Amaranths grow well at higher temperatures and tolerate fairly dry conditions. Ideal soil is light, sandy, fertile and well drained. The more fertile the soil the better they will crop. It can be intercropped with things like beans and gourds.
Amaranth is normally grown from seed but can be propagated from cuttings. Minimum soil temperature for sowing is 10 degrees Celsius but best at 20 degrees Celsius. In warm climates in situ sowing can be made outdoors from Spring to late Summer. Seed is very small so it can be mixed with dry sand and put in a warm dark place for 24 hrs before sowing. Amaranth germinates best in the dark so cover well with soil after sowing.
Thin to the required spacing. Cuttings can be taken from non-flowering side shoots if you want to increase your stock. It is a cut and come again crop and for a continuous supply regular sowings can be made at two week intervals. They are often marketed with the roots attached and pulled when about 8-10 inches high. Any flowers that have developed are removed and leaves and side shoots are harvested. Plants grown this way have strong reserves, and will continue producing into late Autumn. Amaranth seems to grow best in loose soil, so regular hoeing is advisable to prevent the soil from becoming compacted.
The varieties ‘Early Splendour’, ‘Red Stripe’, and ‘Joseph’s Coat of many colours’ are popular ornamental leafy Amaranths which can be cultivated for use.