Let’s just say that if you haven’t yet found your way to picking up a bag or two of amaranth seeds and popping it with your kids, you’re missing out. Besides being loads of fun, amaranth is a high protein grain, which makes it a great snack for kids and adults alike.
(Yes, I know that amaranth is technically a seed and not a grain… affectionately known as a pseudograin or pseudocereal. It’s like knowing a tomato is a fruit but not putting it in your jello, and rhubarb is a vegetable but not cooking it with garlic. Amaranth is a seed used like a grain, and calling it a grain helps people understand how to use it in the kitchen. So it simplifies things to just call it a grain. And it pops. Let’s get back to that…)
The seeds are about half the size of quinoa seeds, but they triple in size when they’re popped.
Amaranth has a nutty, earthy flavor, but its flavor is even more improved when it’s popped (in my opinion).
There’s a bit of a trick to popping amaranth, though, so let me spare you at least some trial and error.
Because amaranth seeds are so small, they only have a small amount of moisture in them. You need that moisture to be instantaneously turned to steam in order to create enough pressure inside the seed to ‘pop’ the seed. If your pan isn’t hot enough, the seed will roast instead, turning a golden brown color and losing all the moisture (and thus the ability to pop).
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you’re okay with roasted amaranth seed (it can be a nice, crunchy addition to the top of a salad).
But we’re going for popped here. So let’s try to avoid roasted seeds.
Use a deep, thick-bottomed pan (if you’ve got one… if not, just a deep-ish pot will do). Get your pan hot. On my stove it gives me heat by numbers. High heat is a 7, low heat is a 1. I put it between 4 and 5. Hopefully that gives you a reference.
(In answer to a question from a reader: No, you don’t use oil. The pan should be dry.)
You can see if the pan is hot enough by dropping a drop of water on the pan. If it disappears immediately, it’s probably hot enough. But before you throw in a bunch of seeds, try just a pinch at first. Using a wooden spoon, immediately begin stirring the seeds around. They should begin popping almost instantaneously, showing the whiteness of the inside of the seeds (just like popcorn!). If they don’t begin to pop in about 3 seconds, pour the seeds out of the pan and wait a bit longer for the pan to heat up.
Once your pan is definitely hot enough and the pinch of amaranth seeds are popping almost as soon as they touch the bottom of the pan, you can begin working in batches of about a tablespoon of amaranth seeds at a time.
As soon as you put the amaranth seeds in the pot, stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the popping slows down. Not all of the seeds will pop, but the majority of them will. If you wait until all the seeds have popped, you’ll end up with burnt amaranth popcorn.
Do not cover the pot or turn off the heat! I saw one other blogger recommend this, but trust me, you’ll end up with more popped seeds, and less chance of burning your popcorn/seeds, if you stir continuously.
A few may escape the pan, but it’s a negligible amount as long as you use a deep pot (6-8 inches or so). Plus you don’t have to turn the heat on and off over and over, which saves a lot of time (and bother) in reheating the pot to the right temperature.
Immediately dump the popped amaranth into a container, return the pan to the stove, and add another tablespoon of amaranth seeds.
You can pop 2 or 3 cups of amaranth seeds in 10 minutes or less. It’s a quick and easy way to make a high-protein, gluten-free snack!