Get to know AMARANTH: the food of the future in the face of MEGA DROUGHT and CLIMATE CHANGE

A food originating from Mexico would be one of the agricultural keys of the future to ensure food production and diversify the sector agriculture and forestry Chilean before him climate change and mega drought. It is amaranth, a grain similar to cerealIt brings together two fundamental properties for the adaptation of the agricultural sector to the new climate scenario: it is resistant to water stress and has a high nutritional value.

These qualities motivated the development of the project of the Agricultural Innovation Fund (FIA) “Amaranth: a productive, nutritious and resilient alternative to climate change for small-scale agriculture in the Central Zone of Chile”, an initiative promoted by the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Chile that is evaluating the cultivation of four species of this superfood in different areas of the regions of Valparaiso, Maule Y Metropolitan.

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Botanically amaranth is not a cereal, but its grains are very similar to a cereal. It has a high amount of protein and amino acids. It is a dry and small grain that is eaten popped. It is a very healthy food. because protein makes you feel full, but also because of the sensation of its consistency«, Explain Cecilia Baginskiacademic from the Department of Agricultural Production of the University of Chile who leads this work.

An agricultural alternative

The project is based on the cultivation of amaranth species at different levels of water stress to evaluate their response, resistance, their best planting date and yield. The team has been conducting evaluations for two years in the towns of longotomein the Valparaiso Region, Alhue in the Metropolitan and colbun in the Maule.

“Of the four species of amaranth, we were finally left with two varieties. Now those two selected have two years of hydric stress in which they are going to have a special irrigation until flowering, and then it is subjected to stress, one is not going to be irrigated, another at 40 percent, another at 60 percent and another at 100 percent, in parallel in the three zones”, details Professor Baginsky, also revealing that «facing a condition of climate change, it is a profitable alternative for farmers”.

According to the academic, when amaranth suffers water stress, it concentrates its nutritional components, such as antioxidants, for example. “We want to see how stress modifies these nutritional characteristics and how the farmer can manage irrigation in such a way that you can still profit from the production. It is going to yield less, but amaranth is going to resist, it is going to produce flowers and grain, unlike any other crop such as wheat and corn”, added Professor Baginsky.

But not only that. Amaranth is also a crop adaptable to low quality and eroded land.a situation that complicates almost half (49.1 percent) of the soils of Chile.

«On this occasion, I also want to highlight the role of foods that diversify national food production, especially when we know that there is a commitment to supply the community by facing, in a profitable way, the adversities climatological”, pointed out the executive director of the FIA, Alvaro Eyzaguirre.

Nutritional value and introduction in the local cuisine

The project, in whose team Professor Paula Silvaand the teachers Marcos Garrido, Ian Hommer and Luis Morales, has allowed developing the cultivation of this food with farmers from the Central Zone and verifying the qualities that confirm it as an alternative to include in the diet of the population of our country.

Apart from its resistance to water stress, Amaranth has important nutritional qualities for health. In addition to containing a 13 percent protein in your grain, its amino acid profile is of excellent quality, since all types are represented. Have fiberwhich helps the digestive tract and contains phenolswhich give it an ideal antioxidant capacity for non-communicable diseases, such as heart diseases, for example.

Amaranth is promoted as a health food due to its nutritional and functional value. It is higher than most cereals, and according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), it is considered a food of excellent protein quality”, detailed the nutritionist Nelly Bustosan academic from the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (INTA), who is also part of the project.

After the shark Amaranth is the second food that most concentrates squalene, a lipid group compound that is added to vaccines to enhance the immune response. In turn, this product contains a high proportion of vitamins, such as: E, B, B1, B2, B3; being also a rich source of calcium, iron, phosphorus and potassium. In addition, it contains serotonin that helps regulate moods and fight depression.

Through a previous project with the Chilean Cooperation Agency for Developmentthe research team also discovered that it is possible to use the panicles as natural food colorings, which also contain many antioxidants. They also found that the leaves have a very high content of minerals, such as calcium, potassium and iron; the latter even in a higher percentage than in spinach.

Gastronomy is a necessary support to publicize its attributes through recipes and preparations from our kitchens. the spanish chef Matthias Polomo highlights some culinary creations with this product such as amaranth seed puree, amaranth milk, meatballs with amaranth, amaranth paste and the inevitable soup with this flower, among others.

For recipes and more information on amaranth and the project can enter the following link.