Photograph source: Cluster Agriculture development Services

The plant is already well known in Zimbabwe amongst traditional food fans. Locally called Mowa, Bonongwe or Imbuya, depending on where you are in the country, Amaranthus spp. are regarded as edible weeds whose leaves can be harvested when garden vegetables are scarce. Further north, in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique amaranth is cultivated and eaten widely and the leaves are a popular component of East African cuisine.

But what about amaranth grain? It is a food associated with Latin America where it was cultivated by the Aztecs and is still a favourite part of the diet today. The most commonly cultivated grain amaranth species are Amaranthus caudatus, Amaranthus cruentus, and Amaranthus hypochondriacus. The grain, which is gluten-free, can be cooked whole or added to thicken soups, stews and drinks. Amaranth flour can be used to make porridge, pizza, pasta and pancakes, or combined with other flours for baking. The grain can even be puffed and eaten like popcorn.

Recently some Zimbabwean NGOs have begun promoting the cultivation of grain amaranth amongst small scale farmers and the project has proved to be a great success. Amaranth grain can be used as a wheat substitute for those who are trying to avoid gluten. In comparison to wheat amaranth contains high levels of iron, calcium and magnesium. Check out our recipe section for a selection of interesting amaranth recipes.

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Anna Brazier
Anna Brazier is the editor of Naturally Zimbabwean. She was born in Zambia but has lived most of her life in Zimbabwe. She has a BSc in Ecology and an MSc in Sustainable Development and works as a consultant promoting sustainable agriculture, nutrition, traditional foods and community resilience in Africa and beyond. She lives in Harare with her husband and three children.