Amaranth (a mah ran th) is a versatile, drought- and weed-resistant crop, making it attractive in many regions of the United States. According to the 2002 U.S. Census of Agriculture, 10 farms grew amaranth on 939 acres. The 2007 census combined amaranth with other crops for the survey. The grain is used almost exclusively for seed production in the United States.
Amaranth was first used as a grain crop over 6,000 years ago in Central America and is gaining favor today among health-conscious consumers. Because it is gluten-free, amaranth is also popular with consumers who have wheat and gluten allergies. This grain is high in lysine, well balanced in other amino acids, has a protein content of around 14 to 17 percent and is high in fiber.
The amaranth plant usually grows to around five or six feet and is maroon or crimson in color. The seeds of the plant number in the thousands and are tiny. Amaranth seeds are processed into popped, flaked, extruded and ground flour forms. They are used in snacks and cereals, and in combination with other grains and flours in baking. Amaranth can also be used for ornamental or limited forage purposes. In other countries, amaranth leaves are either boiled or eaten as greens.
A good yield of amaranth is considered to be above 2200lbs/acre. Many test plots have repeatedly gotten around 6600lbs/acre of amaranth. Production cost for amaranth is estimated at $100 per acre with additional market and transportation cost anywhere from $20 to $200 dollars per acre depending on how far away a wholesaler is. Anywhere from $320-$650 in gross returns could be expected per acre of amaranth. It is not uncommon for this crop to be a complete failure due to near complete loss during harvest due to shattering and/or lodging.
In the United States, amaranth is grown in the upper Midwest, the Great Plains, and particularly in western Nebraska. While the United States production of amaranth is mostly commercial; China uses amaranth in the form of forage for hogs rather than marketing for grain.
Amaranth, like other grains, can be used for industrial purposes. The oil fraction of the grain is unusually high in squalene, an organic compound that is a huge part of synthesis of all plant and animal sterols. The percent of squalene per grain is very small, so unless the extraction is done in large quantities, growers stray away from this approach.
Markets for amaranth are limited, and current demand for amaranth products can be met with approximately 3,000 acres annually. The largest amaranth grain consumer is the health food industry, where organic and transitional production carries a market premium. Market price for amaranth is typically $0.90-$1.00/lbs.
Major costs are associated with transportation because there are only four major buyers in the United States: Arrowhead Mills (Texas), Health Valley (California), Amaranth Resources (Minnesota), and Nu-World Amaranth (Illinois). Some growers also market directly to consumers or to local bakeries.
Amaranth: New Crop Opportunity. Purdue University 1996.
- Amaranth: New Crop Opportunity. Purdue University. ASHA Press, Alexandria, Virginia.
- Amaranth (Chinese Spinach), Texas A&M University.
- Amaranth: Composition, Properties, and Applications of a Rediscovered Food Crop, Ecological Agricultural Projects Center, McGill University, Canada, 1985.
- Amaranth Grain Production Guide, Rodale Research Center - Covers production, marketing and other general information, 1987.
- Amaranth Production, ATTRA, NCAT, 2003 - This brief publication offers information on growing and marketing grain amaranth, and provides references to sources of additional information.
- Bushels of Promise: Amaranth, Ag Innovation News, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, 2003 - This article discusses the amaranth crop as an alternative high-protein grain.
- Grain Amaranth, Kansas State University, 2003 - A production guide.
- Grain amaranth production and effects of soil amendments in Uganda, Graduate Thesis, Iowa State University, 2010.
- Market Opportunities for Grain Amaranth and Buckwheat Growers in Missouri, Missouri Department of Agriculture and the Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute, 2003 - This 56-page report at the USDA Ag Marketing Service website outlines opportunities in the amaranth markets.
- Modern Market Rediscovers Ancient Grains, Ecological Agriculture Projects Center, McGill University, Canada - Article that looks at the marketing advantages of amaranth and other grains.
- Nu-World Foods - Small, family-owned business is pioneer in the amaranth food development business.
- Real Seed Catalogue - This website provides instructions for home processing of amaranth grain.
Profile written November 2005 and updated in March 2014. Links checked March 2014.