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A staple grain of the Incas, Aztecs, and other pre-Columbian peoples, amaranth was once almost as widely dispersed throughout the Americas as corn.1 The most important Andean species is Amaranthus caudatus. In Quechua, the ancient Inca language that is still spoken in the Andes, it is called “kiwicha” (pronounced kee-wee-cha).2

Kiwicha is one of the prettiest crops on earth; the beautiful colors of its broad leaves, stems, and flowers—purple, red, gold—create fiery fields that blaze across the mountainsides. The plant grows vigorously, tolerates drought, heat, and pests, and adapts readily to new environments, including some that are inhospitable to conventional grain crops. Nonetheless, it is little known outside the highland regions of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina.

Kiwicha's grains are scarcely bigger than poppy seeds. However, they occur in huge numbers—sometimes more than 100,000 to a plant. Like other amaranth grains, they are flavorful and, when heated, they pop to produce a crunchy white product that tastes like a nutty popcorn. Light and crisp, it is delicious as a snack, as a cold cereal with milk and honey, as a “breading” on chicken or fish, or in sweets with a whisper of honey.3 The grain is also ground into flour, rolled into flakes, “puffed,” or boiled for porridge. Because of its high nutritional value, it is considered especially good for children, invalids, and the elderly.

These seeds are one of the most nutritious foods grown. Not only are they richer in protein than the major cereals, but the amino acid balance of their protein comes closer to nutritional perfection for the human diet than that in normal cereal grains.

Five hundred years ago kiwicha helped feed the Incas. After the conquest it was nearly forgotten, like so many other ancient Andean

1 For more information on amaranth in general, see our companion report: Amaranth: Modern Prospects for an Ancient Crop.
2 In this chapter, we use “kiwicha” to refer specifically to Amaranthus caudatus.
3 Prepared this way, amaranth is a favorite confection in Mexico, where it is called “alegría,” which means “happiness.” In northern India, a similar product called “ladoos” is popular.

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