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Iowa State University claims:

After the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors in Mexico in the early 1500s, amaranth almost disappeared in the Americas as a crop until research began on it in the U.S. in the 1970s. In the meantime, amaranth had spread around the world, and became established for food use of the grain or leaves in places such as Africa, India and Nepal.

Regarding what happened in the 1970s, Wikipedia goes even further:

It was recovered in Mexico from wild varieties[citation needed]

However, The Guardian reports that indigenous people from Central America recall amaranth being cultivated in family backyards in the first half of the 20th century:

Montgomery says she noticed the presence of borders in a different way when coordinating Qachuu Aloom workshops in California: many of the people they began working with in community gardens were very recent immigrants from Central America and Mexico. Their memories of amaranth were fresh. Montgomery recalls one participant seeing the amaranth and exclaiming, “I remember my grandma planting this.”

Was amaranth virtually uncultivated in the Americas from the 16th century through 1970?

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    I seem to remember that amaranth was used in Aztec religious observances, so it was outlawed by the Spanish in their attempt to convert them to Christianity.
    – GEdgar
    Aug 7, 2021 at 0:15
  • Is the claim that you ask about that current amaranth is based on wild varieties, as Wikipedia states, or that amaranth had "almost disappeared in the Americas as a crop […] until the 1970s"? These claims are very different, because the occurrence of amaranth in community gardens in the early 1900s probably contradicts the Wikipedia claim, but it doesn't have to conflict with the claim from the ISU page. In fact, the latter claim is probably not specific enough to be falsifiable anyway.
    – Schmuddi
    Aug 7, 2021 at 9:39
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    Wikipedia also says "amaranth is thought to have represented up to 80% of their energy consumption before the Spanish conquest" although no source seems cited for this particular claim/estimate. So it's perhaps a matter of (relative) scale of cultivation.
    – Fizz
    Aug 9, 2021 at 21:55
  • FTWT, this 1984 NAP book is usually cited as the authoritative source for historical info, at least in source from before Wikipedia existed. In ref to American varities it says (p. 5) "All three are still cultivated on a small scale in isolated mountain valleys of Mexico, Central America, and South America, where generations of farmers have continue to cultivate the corps of their forebears". So the Wikipedia claim is probably outlandish, but the 1st one you quote probably isn't.
    – Fizz
    Aug 9, 2021 at 22:26
  • There's slightly more detailed historical info (by variety) on pp. 28-30. Unfortunately much of this is not footnoted to any of the references (found at the end of the book), so it's not too clear how this "lore" came to be known to the authors of that NAP book/report.
    – Fizz
    Aug 9, 2021 at 22:49

1 Answer 1

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Yes, amaranth cultivation was discouraged by the Spanish because it was considered an "evil twin" of the wheat used to make the Eucharist.

From the 2021 dissertation Agricultural Productivity and Human-Landscape Dynamics in the Early Basin of Mexico:

Besides its importance in resource provisioning, amaranth also played an important role in the ritual economy. At the trecena festivals held at the beginning of each month, the Aztec would create statues of their god Huitzilopochtli out of popped amaranth seed glued with concentrated maguey sap. The statue would then be consumed by the festival participants at the end of the rituals. It is quite likely that this ancient important ritual is the reason why amaranth is so scarce today. (1, 2)

Within the Central Highlands, the only community with a demonstrated unbroken tradition of amaranth cultivation is Tulyehualco, Xochimilco. There, local tradition states that upon arriving in the New World, the Spanish were disturbed to see the close parallels between the amaranth rituals and Christian communion where the body of Christ in grain form is consumed during a monthly ritual commemorating his sacrifice. According to the Tulyehualqueños, the Spanish believed this to be a sign that amaranth was a satanic food and banned---or at least strongly discouraged---its consumption and cultivation. At the time Tulyehualco was a remote village surrounded by swamplands and formidable slopes making it difficult for the Spanish to fully control the area, allowing a trace of amaranth production to survive. Some of this amaranth managed to make its way into the broader Mexico City market in the form of alegrías (`happinesses')---traditional rectangular or squat-cylindrical candies made in the same way as Huitzilopochtli statues. This was tolerated by the Spanish authorities, so long as its vendors also sold the Christian wheat-derived oblea (communion wafer).

(1) Broda, Johanna, and Aurora Montúfar López (2013). "Figuritas de amaranto en ofrendas mesoamericanas de petición de lluvias en Temalcatzingo, Guerrero." In Identidad a través de la cultura alimentaria, edited by Martha Alicia Salazar, pp. 167–188. Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Bioversidad, México D.F.

(2) Montúfar López, Aurora. (2012). "Amaranto (Amaranthus spp.), planta ritual mesoamericana." In Espitia Rangel, E., editor, Amaranto: Ciencia y Technologia, pages 3–13. Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, Agrícolas, y Pecuarias, Celaya, Guanajuato.

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