Amaranthus caudatus is a species of annual flowering plant. It goes by common names such as love-lies-bleeding, pendant amaranth, tassel flower, velvet flower, foxtail amaranth, and quilete.
Many parts of the plants, including the leaves and seeds, are edible, and are frequently used as a source of food in India and South America – where it is the most important Andean species of Amaranthus, known as kiwicha. (see also Amaranth Grains) This species, as with many other of the amaranths, are originally from the American tropics.
Kiwicha, or “mini quinoa” is a small pseudo cereal noted for its dense nutritional content. Kiwicha has been farmed in Peru and other areas of South America for over 4,000 years and was widely used as a subsistence crop before the Spanish conquest whereby consumption of kiwicha was banned and was instead used to construct animal statues for religious ceremony.
Still regarded for its ceremonial significance, kiwicha is used in the present day during Day of the Dead festivities; the grain is popped and mixed with sugar to form a candy called alegria, usually in the shape of a small figurine or skull. Kiwicha is also commonly used to prepare turrones, a popular treat made of popped kiwicha and molasses, chicha (kiwicha beer) as well as pilaf, hot cereal, snack bars and granola. Some more unique usages for popped kiwicha include its usage as a crumb for meat and meat alternatives but also as filler in items like meat loaf and various quick breads and candies.
During the 1970s there was a renewed interest in kiwicha for its health and nutritional benefits and it has only continued to gain popularity. Kiwicha is considered an anti-aging food due to its cumulative anti-carcinogenic, anti-hypertensive, anti-oxidant, and anti-lipidemic properties. Kiwicha contain all 10 essential amino acids, making it an optimal plant protein for vegetarians. It is also high in the amino acid lysine, distinguishing it from other grains which typically contain very little lysine and need to be combined with other foods to make a complete protein. In addition to being gluten-free, it is high in fibre, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and manganese.
Kiwicha contains phenolic acids, carotenoids, and flavonoids which impart antioxidant properties. It also contains squaline, an organic compound found in some plants, which acts as an anti-cancer agent and may be cardio-protective as well due to its ability to lower LDL, total cholesterol, and triglycerides. A half cup serving of cooked kiwicha provides 125 kcal, 4.7 grams protein, 2 grams of fat, 23 grams of carbohydrate, and 2.5 grams of fibre.