Amaranth originated in Central and South America, and was the most important food of the Aztecs. It contains 12-17% protein, and is a good plant source of the essential amino acid lysine. it is also rich in many other nutrients including vitamin C, beta carotene, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. Amaranth can be cooked and eaten as a breakfast cereal, ground into flour and used in baking, and even popped like miniature popcorn.
Contrary to what its name suggests, buckwheat is unrelated to wheat. It is actually not a true grain at all, but the seed of a fruit. Buckwheat originated in Asia, where it was cultivated as long ago as 6,000 BC. It contains 12-18% high quality protein including the essential amino acids lysine, threonine, tryptophan, and the two sulfur-containing amino acids cysteine and methionine. It also is high in vitamin B6, calcium, folic acid, and iron. Buckwheat is available as the hulled, crushed kernels called groats, which are known as kasha when roasted, and it is also ground as flour. The popular Japanese soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour.
Millet was grown in northern China in Neolithic times, and today it is widely grown in Africa and parts of Asia. Unlike rice, millet thrives in a dry climate. It contains about 11% protein, as well as high quantities of B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and zinc. Millet conains no gluten and it is easily digestible. It can be used in recipes in the same way as rice, as a hot breakfast cereal, and in other recipes such as soups.
Ever-popular as a hot breakfast cereal or porridge, oats are one of the most nutritious grains. Oats were first cultivated in Europe during the Bronze Age, and grow well in regions with cool, wet summers. Oats contain 12-24% protein, and a wealth of other nutrients including B vitamins, zinc, iron, copper, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin E, as well as high amounts of soluble fiber, known to help reduce cholesterol levels. In addition to hot cereal, oats are often used in granola, cookies and other desserts, and oat flour is used in baking.
Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wa"), like buckwheat, is not a true grain. It originated in the Andes region of South America and was an important food of the Incas, who considered it sacred. Quinoa contains 12-18% protein, essential amino acids including lysine, and high amounts of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and B vitamins. Quinoa is gluten-free and easy to digest.
When it grows, quinoa is coated with saponin, a bitter substance which needs to be removed by soaking or rinsing under running water before using the grain. Most commercially available quinoa has the saponin already removed, but it still should be rinsed before use. Quinoa has a light texture and cooks quickly, making it ideal for use in many different recipes. It is easy to sprout, and the sprouted grain, which has an even higher vitamin content, can be added to salads and sandwiches.