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Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Sprinkle Grinch

Have you ever met a child who doesn't go nuts for sprinkles? What's the magic behind those gorgeous little dots, strips, hearts and flowers in all the colors of the rainbow that top our treats?
Is it that they are so sweet, festive, crunchy and/or colorful?

If those are the reasons, I could argue that fresh fruit also comes in those festive colors. In season, it can be almost as sweet, some fruits are crunchy and they all come in many shapes and sizes. There are tiny rounds like currants and blueberries, or large ones like oranges and clementines, there are ovals like kiwis, elongated bananas, strawberry hearts, and there's even the star fruit.

Why is it then, that if I take my kids to 16 Handles* (the very professional lab, where I conduct most of my clinical research) they NEVER top their frozen yogurt with fruit and I have to scream at them to stop piling up the micro candy on their already sprinkle-drowned fro-yo?

*A self-serve frozen yogurt store where you get to crown your treat with assorted toppings of your choice

No doubt. There's something fascinating about sprinkles: their tiny size, their perfect synthetically achieved hues, their easy-to-like flat sweetness...My son says he likes them because they are "yummy" and my daughter agrees stating that they are "tasty," and when I push a bit more she admits also liking that they are colorful.
However, I personally cannot stand sprinkles, and if it weren't because I would turn my kids into sprinkle binge eaters and I would have to pay for endless psychotherapy sessions for sprinkle-deprivation, I would completely ban them.
I agree they are beautiful and cute and they make everything look whimsical and happy, but they are the ultimate empty calorie food seasoned with artificialness. Their ingredient list? Well it goes something like this: sugar, starch, hydrogenated oils (Trans fats baby!), gums, and blue 1, red 40, red 3, yellow 5, and other numbered colors.
So, given my bitterness towards those sweeties, ever since I started developing recipes for Three Tablespoons, I wanted to come up with a natural and wholesome alternative. Puffed amaranth grain with natural food coloring (derived from fruits and vegetables) has been my most exciting answer to the sprinkle dilemma. It doesn't fool anyone, but it's another fun and colorful topping for food and it's actually quite nutritious.

Amaranth--which along with quinoa is called a pseudograin due to their similarities in flavor and culinary uses with cereals--is not a grain, but a seed. It was a staple in the Inca, Aztec and other Native American civilizations and was an important component of their diet and religious rituals. It is still a common food in Mexico, where it's prepared with honey and eaten as a candy with the loveliest of names: "alegria," which means joy.  
Amaranth is incredibly high in complete protein and is a good source of fiber, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper and vitamin B6. It doesn't contain any gluten, it's easily harvested, and high yielding, which explains why it's considered "the crop of the future."  
But don't wait! Step into the future now and start puffing. My kids know amaranth as “baby popcorn” and they love seeing it pop and eat it quite happily (although I must warn you: popping gets messy as the grains can jump all over, so if yours is out of control, lower the flame).

Here's how to do it:


  • Vegan, pareve
  • Gluten, egg, dairy, nut and soy free

From left: raw amaranth seeds and puffed amaranth


Amaranth grain

Natural Food Coloring in primary colors (I use India Tree brand, which is expensive, but a little goes a long way and keeps well for months when refrigerated)

Place a dry medium saucepan (tall sides) over medium heat until VERY hot.
To test its temperature, throw in a few amaranth seeds, and if they start shaking and pop right away, proceed to add a tablespoonful of amaranth.

Mix constantly with a heat proof spatula to avoid it from burning, and once the grain stops popping, pour it onto a bowl (it pops very fast, but be careful, as it can burn very fast as well). If your seeds are burning, lower the heat. Repeat with another tablespoonful of amaranth and continue until you have your desired amount.

Once puffed amaranth cools, color it by squeezing a few drops of food coloring in a small Ziploc bag, then add some of the puffed grain. Close the zipper of the bag and mix the seeds with the coloring. Add more coloring or mix colors. Once you achieve a shade you like, let the seeds dry at room temperature for a couple of minutes and then keep them in an airtight container.
I like having 3 small Ziploc bags. I use them first separately for each of the primary colors then I empty the colored amaranth and reuse the bags to mix secondary colors.

They kind of liked them!!!!

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