Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 4th 2017 Contents B8 life
guardian.co.tt Thursday, May 4, 2017
On a sunny Friday morning in San Pablo Huit-
zo, a town in the Valles Centrales region of Oax-
aca, Mexico, a half-dozen women are gathered
for a workshop on making alegrías, a healthy,
granola bar-like snack made with popped ama-
ranth seeds. Their ingredient list is short: water,
honey, raisins, a form of raw cane sugar known
as piloncillo, and lime juice.
"The trick," explains the event's gracious host, Ma-
ria Lopez, "is to get the syrup to the right temperature"
before adding the tiny orbs of amaranth, each barely
bigger than a grain of coarse sand.
This could be any chatty gathering of neighbour-
hood cooks in any kitchen in the world, except that
in Oaxaca, amaranth is not just a fad ingredient.
The ancient indigenous plant is part of a movement
to revive native crops and cuisines, and a means of
restoring the physical health and economy of their
state, one of the poorest in Mexico.
The alegría gathering is one of six weekly microen-
terprise workshops that the nonprofit Puente a la
Salud Comunitaria (Bridge to Community Health)
holds with 25 different groups in Oaxaca. Founded in
2003 by two American volunteers in Oaxaca seeking
a solution to the high rate of birth defects and child-
hood malnutrition in rural areas, Puente quickly hit
on the idea of reintroducing amaranth into the local
diet, explains Pete Noll, the organisation's executive
High in protein and other nutrients, amaranth is
also drought-resistant and profitable, netting local
farmers three to five times the profit of other locally
grown grain crops.
Puente soon began working with small farmers to
strengthen local economies through the sustaina-
ble cultivation of amaranth, known as amaranto in
Spanish. As national obesity rates rose precipitous-
ly---Mexico has surpassed the US in the number of
overweight adults---Puente took on fighting both
malnutrition and obesity.
In ancient Mesoamerica amaranth was known as
huautli, meaning "the smallest giver of life," and was
grown in large quantities similar to that of maize.
When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, ama-
ranth all but disappeared from the native diet. No one
knows for sure why. One theory holds that the edible
sculptures of Aztec deities made of amaranth, corn
and honey---and perhaps laced with human blood---
were a pagan threat to Spanish Catholicism.
Back at the Lopez household, after the alegría in-
gredients have been mixed, the women spread the
mixture on a sheet of buttered paper held in a wooden
frame, cut it into squares and taste the final product.
The verdict: universal thumbs up. The next steps,
explains Hope Bigda-Peyton, Puente's director of
development and sustainability, will be for the group
to figure out costs, pricing and profit margins. Once
they've developed their packaging and logo, they can
sell their alegrías at local markets and restaurants,
or at the two amaranth specialty shops that Puente
Not far from where Lopez lives, in the town of
Suchilquitongo, tender young amaranth leaves sprout
between rows of corn on Minerva Cruz's farm. One
of close to 250 farmers that Puente works with, Cruz
is in her third year of cultivating amaranth.
Cruz has lent her farm to Puente for five years to
serve as an amaranth processing centre. Thanks to
a federal grant, the farm recently got prototype ma-
chines that thresh and clean the plant's seeds, which
has vastly increased efficiency.
In the brick warehouse adjacent to the machines,
Gerardo Lopez, head of Puente's agricultural extension
programme, shows how each bag of amaranth seeds
is carefully labeled to indicate the varietal it contains
and how it was grown. Most of Puente's farmer part-
ners practice what's known as agroecological farm-
ing---which prizes maintaining biodiversity---or are
"in transition" to these methods.
Farmers like Cruz who grow amaranth have also
developed a repertoire of recipes for the plant. Al-
though the seed, flour and leaves of the bushy plant
can all be consumed, cereal (the popped seeds) is the
most commonly used form in Mexico. Cruz's mother
likes to add the leaves to water and blend them with
lime peel to make an agua fresca.
Last summer, to promote the use of amaranth in
• Continues on Page B9
grows in a field
in Mixteca Alta,
Why Mexican chefs, farmers
and activists are reviving
the ancient grain amaranth
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