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In the baking aisle of the Potsdam Food Co-op.  Lots of choices -- grains, seeds, lentils, beans, flours. Photo: Todd Moe
In the baking aisle of the Potsdam Food Co-op. Lots of choices -- grains, seeds, lentils, beans, flours. Photo: Todd Moe

A new twist on an old grain at the Potsdam Food Co-op

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There are a lot of grains, beans and seeds out there that we're told are nutritious, but what's the best way to prepare them? The Potsdam Food Co-op has kicked off its monthly tasting series this summer.

"Juanita's 1st Thursday Creations" is an opportunity to sample something new. The Co-op's Wendy Turnbull and cook Juanita Babcock gave Todd Moe a tour of the baking aisle this week for a lesson on how to cook a tiny seed known as Amaranth. It's packed with iron, calcium, fiber and gluten-free.

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Todd Moe
Morning Host and Producer


Todd Moe: I’m always thinking about food and so I stopped by the Potsdam Food Co-op earlier this week after I got a press release talking about their new food series—their first “Thursday Creations” series at the Potsdam Food Co-op. Have you ever heard of amaranth? It’s a very old seed packed with iron, calcium, and lots of fiber—triple that of wheat—but completely gluten free. The Potsdam Food Co-op is going to give you a chance to taste a chia spiced amaranth pudding tomorrow afternoon from 3:30-5:30. Earlier this week I caught up with Juanita Babcock. She’s going to prepare that pudding for tomorrow afternoon. And also, Wendy Turnbull who oversees packaging at the Potsdam Food Co-Op, to talk about amaranth and this new innovative way to cook this ancient grain.

Wendy Turnbull: My name is Wendy Turnbull and I am a packaging supervisor at the Potsdam Food Co-Op. We’re standing in an isle with lots and lots of packaged grains and beans and legumes. And what we do at the Co-Op is our supplier looks for great sources of high quality items that we can package and make available to our customers, our members. And people come in and they buy all these things and turn them into great meals but not everybody knows what to do with a package of amaranth.

It’s just this little sea of, you know, beige grains and flakes and beans and what not. So what we decided we really needed to do was have a series of tastings where we could celebrate all of these items that we package here. And Juanita Babcock is the perfect person to do this, and it turned into Juanita’s first “Thursdays Creations”. What she does is she creates recipes and she gives the recipe on the day of the tasting and it’s fabulous, it’s a really good thing for people to come to.

TM: And it’s a nice way of showcasing what you offer here at the Co-Op and as you say, it’s a way for somebody to take it home and actually make something with it.

WT: Yes, make it. Make healthy, nutritious, easy meals for your family. It’s great.

TM: Can you give me an idea of some of the other stuff you’ve made or are you kind of kicking it off with Juanita?

WT: Well Juanita can speak to the first…

Juanita Backcock: The first one that we did was a Quinoa Salad, since it’s summer and very hot out, and it seemed to be well-received. It was with dried apricots and toasted almonds, a very high protein salad indeed. A very complete protein.

TM: So this Thursday is another tasting opportunity at the Co-op and I’m going to kind of let you tell us more: what’s the chief ingredient this time?

JB: OK, this one is amaranth which is ancient--very, very old--and also very high in protein. It’s an amaranth pudding. People tend to think of grains as something you use more in savory dishes, but I found a wonderful amaranth chai spiced pudding and I tested it out here at the Co-op and it seemed to hit the spot.

TM: Juanita, I’m going to grab a bag of this amaranth organic. A really, very small grain.

JB: Tiny, tiny grains. I got the recipe online from a website called Nourish Network and I modified it a bit because of the high sugar content that the original had. I substituted a lower amount of the organic sucanat to make it just a little healthier. It’s not a vegan dish but it is a vegetarian one. It tastes somewhat like rice pudding but it has more of an Indian, Asian-Indian flavor to it, because of the chai spices which involve cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.

TM: And you are inviting folks to come by and taste it, take home the recipe, and the idea here is the Co-op has the ingredients

JB: Exactly, that’s exactly right. We have all the ingredients that are in this particular recipe.

TM: So, amaranth. Is there anything else you want to mention, Juanita, about this grain or about the dish. You have a few notes here and I want to make sure we don’t leave something out.

JB: Well, it is very high in protein; in fact it’s very close to the animal-origin products so it has a higher protein content than a whole lot of the other grains do. It’s also very healthy for the heart; it lowers cholesterol and also your triglycerides. And thirdly, probably important for a whole lot of people, is the fact that it’s naturally gluten-free. So, you can use this in any of the dishes and not have to worry about any gluten in it.

It is also a very old grain—it was domesticated between 6,000 and 8.000 years ago by the Aztecs. Unfortunately, when the Conquistadors came to Mexico, it was regarded as a heathen ceremonial thing. So what they did, the missionaries that came, prohibited and punished severely anybody who was using amaranth. But, because of the resiliency of amaranth it was able to continue and it’s grown now all throughout the world in China and India, Nigeria, and Thailand. Also now in the United States in Nebraska, Missouri, North Dakota, and Long Island, New York.   

TM: That’s Juanita Babcock at the Potsdam Food Co-Op. She’s preparing chai spiced amaranth pudding. You can taste it tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon from 3:30-5:30 pm at the Potsdam Co-op.

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