Amaranth can provide up to 70% of grain in the country, even under the most adverse conditions. Adverse conditions imply drought. The unique ability of amaranth to grow and produce crops that can be used in the diet, people have long appreciated in Mexico. Today, the experience of previous generations is taken into account in this country, and research is being conducted aimed at increasing the productivity of agriculture as a whole and increasing the share of amaranth in it.
“Joy” is one of the names that amaranth received in Mexico. Researchers attribute this to the customs that existed in ancient times. During the festivities, people used products to express their joy, and one of the main things was amaranth, since it gave health and vitality. This name is found in the 16th century in the councils of monks that saves life. Amaranth was considered a basic crop of Toltecs living from the 9th to the 12th century in the territory of modern Mexico (later the word “toltec” became equivalent to the concept of “sage”). Interestingly, amaranth traces were found during archaeological excavations at the site of the Toltec settlements. Archaeologist Nadia Veles Saldana notes that amaranth seeds were in clay pots and have been preserved for a long time, they did not have any signs of decomposition. It is also noted that the cultivation of amaranth in this territory decreased only with the arrival of the conquerors.
People in ancient times knew about the healing properties of amaranth. This confirmation can be found, in particular, in the descriptions of the life of Mesoamerican Indians. There amaranth is mentioned as part of Aztec herbal medicine. In 1570, one of the scientists of the time, Francisco Hernandez, wrote about the miraculous power of amaranth’s green parts and advised them to be used to “soften the abdomen”, cleanse ulcers, reduce scars, against jaundice and dysentery.
You can also find materials about the use of amaranth in food. The peoples who lived in what is now Mexico used crushed grain, fresh and dried leaves. Amaranth ingredients were combined with others for making bread and cakes, porridge, drinks and sweets. For the preparation of bread, cakes, various dishes and drinks, along with amaranth, other plants have been used since ancient times: corn, soybeans, wheat, and also chili pepper. Almost all types of sweets are still prepared with the addition of honey.
During the annual holiday of Joy and Oliva, which is celebrated in modern Mexico, residents of the country prepare various sweets with amaranth. It uses not only amaranth, but also corn, beans, rice, peanuts, chia. Honey is present in all kinds of holiday sweets. In the most common recipe for a festive treat, for example, the minimum set of ingredients is indicated. For the preparation of delicacies must take:
• 2 glasses of roasted amaranth grain;
• 4-6 tablespoons of honey.
The honey is melted in a water bath, and then amaranth is sent to it and everything is thoroughly mixed. After that, the mixture is placed in a greased rectangular container, cut into small squares and sent to cool. Sweets for this recipe is most often prepared in the Federal District.
Amaranth as one of the main food crops
Amaranth for obtaining large quantities of food grains In Mexico today, amaranth is grown in several states, and the main production sites have been identified, where this plant is cultivated for commercial purposes. The most favorable region where it is possible to grow amaranth is North Mexico with more than 40 million hectares of semi-desert. The cultivation of amaranth on a large area has become here a profitable alternative to production by farmers who use modern sowing technology, and also provides an opportunity to get a high yield.
Farmers were convinced that the cultivation of amaranth with a commercial purpose brings a higher profit than the cultivation of corn and beans. In addition, the yields of the latter each year are at risk of remaining in the basement, since there is an excess supply of them throughout the country, and the price of this grain depends on the situation on the international market.
Growing amaranth is also beneficial because the growing demand for nutritious and healthy foods. Mexico has been producing various amaranth-based mixes. Thus, a lot of products with various types of dry chili pepper are made and sold from amaranth flour, and various sauces with amaranth and molasses (beet molasses) are made in powders with a long shelf life. Amaranth macaroni is also popular.
In Mexico, common small enterprises specializing in the manufacture of amaranth products. They, as a rule, try not to depend on suppliers of raw materials, and they themselves grow amaranth. These include companies such as Mole Ultrarrápido El Durangueño and Bionutri. The second one specializes in hot amaranth-based sauces, and for this it has several thousand hectares of the necessary plant, and the products themselves are in demand on the regional market.
Amaranth concentrates are also produced, which are widely used in the bakery and food industry for the enrichment of food. Such additives give standard recipes for bread, pastries, cereals, typical dishes, natural products, pastes, soups, snacks and other products:
• new taste;
• improved texture;
• high quality nutrition.
One of the main directions is the creation of new varieties.
Amaranth varieties for uniform growth and ripening of grain. Interests to amaranth and the healing properties of this plant in different countries encourage Mexican scientists to pay more attention to improving this culture, cultivating varieties for cultivation in any regions and at different latitudes. In this work, of course, one of the main abilities of the plant is taken into account. After all, amaranth, like sugarcane, for example, has a special mechanism of photosynthesis, known as type C4. This mechanism makes the plant effective in conditions of high temperatures, low availability of water and saline soils, so it can be considered an alternative crop in areas with semi-arid or low rainfall. In Mexico, varieties were bred that, under such conditions, can yield from 3 to 5 tons per hectare. Special importance to the plant gives the presence in it of a huge amount of nutrients. Amaranth is valued for its high protein content (16%), lysine, an essential amino acid in human nutrition, which is extremely low in ordinary cereals. Leaves rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals are capable of providing two to three times more nutrients than other vegetables. Today amaranth is considered an important supplement in a cereal-based diet, and is especially useful for children, pregnant or lactating women.
Based on the value of amaranth, and work is underway to improve its varieties. So, back in 1994, experts from the National Polytechnic Institute began experiments on the planting and adaptation of amaranth varieties in the state of Durango. Then the farmers were asked for opinions and wishes on different types of seeds, germination, crop condition and harvest, and the information obtained was used to work on plant varieties that could be adapted to the soils and climates of northern Mexico. This gave farmers the opportunity to grow a crop that gives a higher yield, to use the grain and green parts of the plant as a source of protein.
Studies on the adaptation of varieties were conducted with an emphasis on two species that best adapt to the latitudes / heights of Durango. One of them is Amaranth caudate, red, also known as “dark” or “hypochondriac” amaranth. He was investigated in the central valleys of Mexico, where the climate is moderately humid and with altitudes from 1800 to 2500 meters above sea level. Growing without irrigation, this variety yielded a crop of 2.5 to 3 tons per hectare. True, in this case there was the use of 50 kilograms per hectare of chemical fertilizer based on ammonium diphosphate as a source of nitrogen and phosphorus. Herbicides or insecticides were not used. It should also be noted that large volumes of grain were collected thanks to the use of a combined machine capable of holding small grains.
Amarantus cruentus, also known as amaranth paniculata, was interested in researchers as a variety characterized by high yield of green mass and grain, as well as precociousness and resistance to shattering. It is most beneficial to grow it in a dry and hot semi-tropical climate, but with altitudes from 300 to 1000 m above sea level. This variety is more pleased with the yield of green mass – more than 80 tons per hectare, and this is 20 percent higher than the feed obtained by sowing fodder corn, which the farmer grows with the sowing of improved seeds and using a large number of chemical fertilizers.
Scientists at the National Institute of Forestry, Agriculture and Livestock (INIFAP) in Mexico are working to improve amaranth varieties so that production can be increased, and they also prove the feasibility of increasing the area of amaranths in the country. According to experts, an increase in the volume of grain production would be more significant with uniform ripening. In addition, in order for the cultivation of amaranth to be integrated into modern systems of profitable agricultural production in Mexico, since 2013, researchers have been working on the production of varieties that are adapted to the mechanized system of harvesting. In particular, experts in the field of phytogenetics have developed their own method of flower development, which ensures uniform growth and ripening of grain, disease resistance, high yield potential and good quality of grain, and the new method greatly simplifies mechanized harvesting. However, it will only be possible to obtain a new variety when the populations under development will undergo two selection methods, and only from the fifth generation will the genealogical selection method or “pedigree” be used. This is how experts hope to get plants that match the combination of desired qualities. The best seeds can be released and registered as new varieties for inclusion in the National Catalog of Plant Varieties (CNVV) of the National Seed Inspection and Certification Service (SNICS). Only after this new seeds will be recommended for planting and suitable for mechanical harvesting for commercial and industrial purposes.