The concepts of “organic,” “free range,” “shade grown,” “farm-to-table,” “locally grown,” and “GMO-free” food have widened the average grocery-shopper’s lexicon over the past decade. Sure, those phrases all ostensibly describe how food is grown and sourced, but they also offer implicit judgements about how much healthier it is for us.
Many of the arguments in favor of these things harken back to how we “used to” eat: We were healthier before pesticides poisoned our bodies. Meat tasted better when animals weren’t raised by factory farms. People had a real relationship with their food when they bartered their skills for a basket of fresh peaches. The way food used to be grown was better.
And there is some legitimacy to these points. If we truly do want to prevent global warming, we have to reckon with the ethics of shipping avocados from Chile so that we can pay an absurdly low price for them in the middle of winter. (But it’s complicated, and maybe actually a more sustainable way of growing produce.) Factory farms are just about the most hellish places on earth, and if raising animals non-barbarically is both more humane and results in tastier meat, is that worth paying a few extra bucks for?
But just because certain elements of the modern food industry are fucked up doesn’t necessarily mean that everything about the past was better. This is most obviously apparent with the latest fad diet, which probably advocates eating like 17th century Japanese samurai or some shit. Most Americans aren’t actually sensitive to gluten, bone broth is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of, and going paleo makes no sense.
Modern foods and food movements should be judged on their own merits, not against a rubric that posits that the 1920s were perfect. And Arrowhead Mills’s Organic Amaranth Flakes—the food of Aztecs!—may have been the best thing going in 1400s Central America, but compared to today’s cereals it mostly just tastes like nothing.
For our purposes they’re bran flakes, basically, or maybe off-brand mis-colored corn flakes. The box touts the fact that the Aztecs loved this shit, but I’m more concerned with just understanding what it is—because amaranth seems like a complicated plant with numerous varieties that my tenth grade biology knowledge didn’t equip me to understand or describe. Wikipedia says amaranth is a plant that can be be cultivated as a “pseudocereal,” so let’s go with that: amaranth is basically a cereal grain, like corn, rice, wheat, and oats.
The main reason for eating amaranth flakes is the supposed health benefit. It’s made from whole grains (and not just whole grains of amaranth; the first listed ingredient is actually “organic wheat grain oat flakes”), not refined grains. This means it contains “high levels of protein and fiber” and is “a low fat cereal that is also a good source if iron and fiber.”
Those are all good things I guess, but when it comes to breakfast foods, as a culture we’ve pretty much punted on caring about health. Waffles, pancakes, french toast, bacon, eggs, cheese, butter, Frosted Flakes, donuts, muffins. Sure, it’s great that amaranth flakes aren’t bad for you, but breakfast is a meal where taste and convenience are prized, not health.
If you’re already into health food-grade cereal, I suspect you’ll enjoy amaranth flakes. If you are a Rice Krispies Treats Cereal kinda dude—yes, Rice Krispies Treats Cereal is a real product, and it’s the most delicious thing on earth—you’re probably going to hate amaranth flakes.
The texture of the flakes is very similar to the bran flakes you find in your favorite raisin bran, but they’re less grainy and dense. When eaten dry they’re harder than you’d like, but they actually soften up perfectly in a bowl of milk. They’re hard enough to avoid getting soggy, but soft enough that you don’t have to wait an eternity for them to become edible, like with Captain Crunch. It results in a satisfying cereal-eating experience.
When a review leads with the texture, however, that usually spells bad news for the taste. Even grading amaranth flakes on a scale made up of non-sugary cereals, they have to be one of the blandest things I’ve ever tasted. I’d imagine cardboard is more flavorful, and the small, undefinable aftertaste is what you’ll remember most. The box highlights a “lively nutty taste,” but there is certainly nothing lively about this product, and I don’t taste any nuts either.
Which, to be honest, isn’t the worst thing in the world! Eating something that tastes like nothing is better than eating something that tastes offensive, after all. I’ve eaten the cereal for breakfast the past two mornings, and it has been perfectly acceptable. Not something that I look forward to waking up to, not something to consume with joy, but it goes down just fine. But I think I’ll pick up a box of Rice Krispies Treats cereal for tomorrow.
Welcome to Bougie Food Reviews, an irregular series where we review the most highfalutin products available in the grocery store. If you’ve got an idea for a future review, email the author here.