Knowing How To Grow Red Amaranth aka Callaloo In the UK Is About Understanding It’s Needs And Origin. Amaranth Hails From South America & Is Related To Quinoa. It Loves Warmth & Sunlight. Here’s How To Grow Amaranth.
I’m pleased to know How To Grow Red Amaranth because not only is it nutritious, it is also a wonderfully colourful plant. The colour alone makes me want to grow it. And once it germinates it is an easy plant to grow provided you understand a bit about the plant.
The Origin of Red Amaranth
Often called callaloo, the plant originates from South America and was an Aztec and Inca crop, grown for leaves and seed. The fact it is related to quinoa will give an idea of what to expect from the grain, small seeds held in a fine feathery flower head that grows in “plumes”.
Coming from South America there’s also a clue as to the conditions it likes. It wants warmth, in fact frost kills it. And though it is fast growing and need water it prefers well drained soil. The more fertile the better or it will never grow to full size. As for height, expect a plant of up to two metres, six foot!
In this article I’m wring about Red Amaranth, but there are green varieties as well.
Sowing & Germinating Red Amaranth
The seed is very small. And with such fine seed it will not germinate if sown too deep. I surface sow mine and cover with just a layer of very fine dust like soil, the thinner the better. Then I keep it warm (13-20C) and moist. It then germinates in 10-20 days depending on conditions. Because the seed is so small, and hence seedlings minute, I like to start it in modules and transplant when big enough.
Growing Red Amaranth
I transplant outdoors once the risk of frost has gone. Late summer crops I transplant into containers in the greenhouse and harvest leaves for as long as the plant produces them.
Outdoors my preferred planting distance is 60cm / 2 ft apart, when grown for grain. But only 8-10 inches apart when grown for leaves.
The growing site needs to be well drained and as sunny as possible.
Growing Red Amaranth As a MicroGreen
In this case perhaps that should be called a MicroRed !
Grow in containers on a moist medium. This could be anything from damp tissues to compost or other growing medium. Harvest when the first true leaf shows.
In warm conditions they will grow fast once germinated.
How To Harvest and Cook Amaranth Leaves
Red amaranth brings a magic to cooking. The young leaves can be lightly steamed or boiled with a knob of salted butter and, though coloured deep mauve, are similar to spinach.
But the water in which they are boiled retains the colour and, if used to cook rice, turns a deep deep claret / purple colour.
To keep the young leaves coming pinch out the flower head as they form. New shoots will develop from the leaf axils.
How Cook Red Amaranth Seed
The seed of red amaranth are high in saponins and need washing in cold water at least five times to cleanse them. The seed can then be sprouted and turned into a popcorn.
Alternatively they can be toasted, ground and turned into a flour. Toasted seed can also be used as a cereal.
Boiled amaranth seed is a slightly sticky concoction. If it goes gloopy then its been cooked in too much water or overcooked.
How To Harvest Red Amaranth Seed
The seed heads are best harvested after they have started to dry, sometimes after the first light frost. If the seed is shedding, often sparrows helping themselves is a clue, it’s time to cut the flower heads from the plant.
Place the flower heads in a box and turn them every few days. The seeds will drop out as they dry.
If you’ve a lot of seedheads to harvest seed from there’s an easier way. Hang them to dry over a collecting sheet and let the seed drop. Or place in a large close textured sack, hang in an airy dry spot and shake the bag every day. To speed the process even more beat the bag with a stick!
Being a very fine seed winnowing is not always easy. A fine sieve will allow most seed through whilst retaining the larger debris. After that it’s a matter of using a light draught to blow the debris away as the seed is dropped from one container to another. But being light seed its important that the freezer isn’t too strong.
The seed needs storing in a cool dry container.
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