TSU Grows Seeds That Could Be Next Big Superfood

Posted at 4:39 PM, Aug 16, 2016
Researchers at Tennessee State University have been studying a grain that could become a new superfood.
That's if TSU they get their wish and the small seed named Amaranth takes off on the health food scene.
Surrounded by rows of corn, there's a plant at the Tennessee State University farm that clearly stands out.

"We've got a great purple variety on our right and a pink variety on our left," Research Associate Professor Dr. Matthew Blair showed NewsChannel 5 the plants he's been working on with funding from the USDA and the state.

Amaranth has roots in ancient Central America.

"It was a tribute crop among the Aztec people to their king and to their emperor," Blair said.

It produces small seeds that scientists say pack a big punch. They hope it's the next big superfood because of its nutritional content and how easy it is to prepare.

"Amaranth could be the next quinoa if more people knew about it," Blair said.

At TSU, Blair's team is studying how to grow it in the South for the first time. They're also profiling the nutrients through DNA in the lab.

"It's high in protein, it's gluten free it has neutral flowery taste but has a good bit of flavor," Blair said.

Dr. Blair said Amaranth could be a wheat substitute. You can pop it like popcorn, toast it, boil it, bake it into candies, cereal and crackers and even mill it into flour.

NewsChannel 5's Rebecca Schleicher gave it a try to see how it tastes.

"I would recommend that one first," Blair pointed to the larger, puffed seeds.

"This is the popped one?" Schleicher asked before sampling, "kind of tastes like popcorn!"

"Yeah like a mini popcorn," Blair agreed.

She then tried a toasted variation of the seeds which tasted like tiny almonds.

"With honey it's an energy bar in the morning," Blair said.

He said the seeds are usually organic and free of GMOs, and you can even eat the plant leaves. Young leaves are used in Africa and other parts of the world in stew. Blair said they taste similar to spinach.

Right now the team has 30 varieties adapted for conditions in Tennessee. They say the crops can grow more than a foot a week.

"You know how they say knee high by the Fourth of July?" Blair said, "Amaranth grows even faster than that."

It's something they hope farmers and hobbyists across Tennessee embrace. To help grow local interest in a plant that grows its own superfood.

Amaranth can also be used to distil whiskey and brew beer, which would be gluten free. One local distillery has already reached out to TSU, asking how to get the product.