Amaranth and quinoa are both grain-like super foods that are high in protein and other nutrients. They are very similar in taste, and both can be prepared and served much like rice. There are several key differences between amaranth and quinoa, however, including nutrient content, ideal growth conditions, and some preparation techniques.
From a nutritional perspective, both amaranth and quinoa are vastly superior to other common grains such as wheat or rice, but they differ in the types of nutrients they provide. At around 8 to 9 grams per serving, both are high in protein, and both contain complete proteins.
Amaranth and quinoa also have different amounts of vitamins and minerals. Quinoa is higher in vitamins, containing 19% of the daily recommended value (DRV) of folate and approximately 10% of vitamins B1, B2 and B6 for a single serving. A serving of amaranth contains about 14% DRV of folate and 14% DRV of B6, but not a significant amount of other vitamins. Amaranth, however, has a greater amount of healthy minerals, with 100% DRV of manganese and more than 25% DRV of phosphorus, magnesium and iron. Quinoa has approximately 50% DRV of manganese and appreciable amounts of iron, copper and zinc.
The two plants require slightly different growing conditions. Quinoa is a cool weather crop and is usually planted in April or May in the northern United States. On the other hand, amaranth is a warmer weather plant with a later growing season, as it is usually planted in June.
In many respects, amaranth and quinoa are prepared in much the same way. When first harvested, however, quinoa is coated in a compound called saponin, which is not found on amaranth. Saponin is a soapy, bitter substance that protects the plant from being eaten by birds or insects. This compound is usually washed off before being commercially packaged, but consumers should still thoroughly rinse quinoa before cooking it. Preparing amaranth does not require this step.
Individual amaranth seeds are slightly smaller than those of quinoa. For this reason, amaranth usually has a shorter cooking time. Alternatively, amaranth can be cooked longer and dissolved almost completely for use as in thickening vegetable broth.