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The nutritional quality and acceptability of weaning foods incorporating amaranth

P. Rathod and S. A. Udipi



This study focused on developing weaning mixes using amaranth in three forms - malted, roasted, and puffed - and a leafy vegetable together with a cereal in one of four forms - malted wheat, raw milled rice, puffed rice, and rice flakes. The formulations based on puffed rice and rice flakes were intended to be ready-to-eat mixes. In all, 24 mixes were formulated - six in each of four groups based on the four cereals. All the mixes were acceptable for consumption. Intake and acceptability trials were conducted with children for four of the mixes that were found the most acceptable in laboratory sensory evaluation. The study indicated that amaranth grains and leaves can be effectively used at the community or village level for producing low-cost, nutrient-rich weaning mixes.



The importance of weaning foods for promoting children's growth and well-being is well recognized. Several types of weaning foods have been formulated in India The economically affluent and elite generally meet growing infants' needs through commercial products that are technically standarized [1]. The popular brands are expensive and so are out of reach of the large majority of the population who belong to the lower socio-economic strata. For such families, the choice is limited. The baby is either given the same food that is prepared for the rest of the household or continues to be breast-fed, with a suboptimal nutrient intake. In either case, the nutrition of the child suffers and optimum growth cannot be ensured.

The problem of protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) occurs in infants and children who subsist on cereal and legume-based foods that provide insufficient calories. Because cooked cereal has a low caloric density and is bulky, it is often difficult to feed it in adequate amounts [2]. Efforts have been made to develop low-cost weaning foods that can be prepared by simple technology. Malted ready-to-eat mixes of low viscosity and with good growth-promoting qualities show great promise [3-5]; however, they are primarily composed of cereals and legumes. In view of the growing demand for food-grain staples in a country such as India, where rice and wheat production may reach a plateau, exploitation of millets and pseudo-cereals as food grains becomes inevitable. Pseudo-cereals have a fairly high protein content of good quality and are rich in lysine. Thus they may be used to supplement cereals, thereby upgrading the overall protein quality of the diet.

One such pseudo-cereal is amaranth, which can be adapted for infant feeding. It possesses the usual characteristics of cereals such as bland taste, ease of cooking, lack of antinutritive factors, and more than 5% of available protein calories [6]. Morales et al. [7] report that toasted amaranth flour increases the nutritional quality of maize and suggest that grain amaranth can be grown and combined in home preparations or industrial products to enhance the protein and lipid content of the diet significantly.

Besides PEM, vitamin-A deficiency and iron-deficiency anaemia are the major nutrition problems that occur in preschool children. Most often they are caused by diets inadequate in calories and especially limited in their content of foods rich in vitamin A and iron. Therefore, in developing any weaning food, it would be desirable to include foodstuffs that would supply these essential nutrients.

Amaranth leaves are consumed in many parts of India. Encouraging the cultivation of amaranth, already familiar to the population, would serve a dual purpose in supplying greens rich in needed provitamin A as well as a pseudo-cereal that can be used to supplement the cereal-pulse diet.

The present investigation focused on incorporating amaranth into mixes that could be used as weaning foods. Grain amaranth was used in three forms: roasted, malted, and puffed. The other ingredients were a cereal, a vitamin A-rich leafy green vegetable, and skim milk. Both mixes requiring preparation and ready-to-eat mixes were developed, and their acceptability to mothers and children was studied.



In all, 24 mixes were prepared, comprising four groups based on four forms of cereal, with six formulations for each group. Three principal ingredients were used: (a) the cereal - malted wheat, raw milled rice, puffed rice, or rice flakes; (b) grain amaranth - roasted, malted, or puffed; and (c) a dehydrated leafy green vegetable, either spinach or drumstick leaves (Moringa oleifera), as a source of -carotene. All the mixes were combined in a ratio of 7:2:1 (cereal, amaranth, leafy vegetable respectively), except for two mixes each in groups 3 and 4 in which part of the amaranth and leafy vegetable were replaced by skim-milk powder in a ratio of 14:3:2:1 (cereal, amaranth, skim-milk powder, leafy vegetable), and two mixes each in the same two groups in which all of the amaranth was replaced by skim-milk powder.

TABLE 1. Formulations of weaning mixes prepared from cereal, amaranth, and leafy vegetables

Group (cereal base) 2nd ingredient Leafa Symbol
Mixes requiring cooking
1. Malted wheat roasted amaranth (R) S RS1
malted (germinated) amaranth (G) S GS1
puffed amaranth (P) S PS1
2. Raw rice roasted amaranth S RS2
malted amaranth S GS2
puffed amaranth S PS2
Ready-to-eat mixes
3. Puffed rice puffed amaranth S PS3
puffed amaranth + skim-milk powder (PM) S PMS3
skim-milk powder (M) S MS3
4. Rice flakes puffed amaranth S PS4
puffed amaranth + skim-milk powder S PMS4
skim-milk powder S MS4

a. s = spinach; D = drumstick leaves.

Treatment of ingredients

Wheat and amaranth were malted by first soaking the grains for approximately 12 hours in an equal volume of water at room temperature and then wrapping them in a moist muslin cloth and leaving them for 48 hours to germinate. They were then dried in a dehydrator for approximately 5 hours. When they were dry to touch, the grains were browned at approximately 80 C until a characteristic malted aroma and flavour developed.

Roasted amaranth flour was prepared by roasting amaranth seeds for seven to eight minutes until they were light brown and powdering them. Puffed rice, rice flakes, and puffed amaranth, as well as raw milled rice, were purchased from the local market and reduced to minute particles in a grinder in the laboratory.

The various ingredients were mixed in the appropriate amounts, and the mixes were stored in separate containers at room temperature for sensory evaluation and estimation of viscosity.

Sensory evaluation of mixes

Sensory evaluation was carried out in the laboratory in order to select the most acceptable mix from each of the four groups of formulations. The gruels prepared for this purpose were made with a standardized recipe using 15 g of the mix per 100 ml of water, with the exception of raw rice, for which 12.5 g of mix was used to obtain a gruel with pouring consistency. The gruels also contained 15 g of jaggery (crude brown sugar). The gruels from the mixes requiring cooking were prepared by dissolving the jaggery in hot water, adding the dry mix powder, and cooking on medium heat for five minutes until a smooth paste of pouring consistency was obtained. The gruels from the ready-to-eat mixes were prepared by simply stirring the powder into hot water in which the jaggery had been dissolved, without subjecting them to further heating.

All the recipes were evaluated by 15 panelists instructed in the use of a five-point rating scale.

Intake and acceptability trials

Intake and acceptability trials were carried out for the four mixes - one from each group - that were found most acceptable by the panelists. They were conducted with 25 children 6 to 18 months of age suffering from grade I or grade II malnutrition whose mothers visited a nutrition rehabilitation centre operated by Sion Hospital in Dharavi slum, Bombay, daily for feeding supplements consisting of 250 ml of skim milk and 30 to 40 g of cooked cereal.

Two different kinds of intake trials were conducted: one measuring the intake of food per child per sitting, and the other measuring the intake of dry mix per child per day. The former trials were carried out at the nutrition rehabilitation centre by serving prepared gruel to the children. For the latter, a three-day study was carried out by giving the mothers three 100-g packets of dry mix sealed in polythene bags. If they needed more mix on the second or third day, it was supplied to them. At the end of the three days, the leftover mix was weighed to estimate the child's net intake per day.

In addition, the mothers were interviewed after the completion of the three-day trials regarding the convenience of preparation of the gruel. its acceptability to the child, changes in the consistency of the child's stools if any, and whether they were willing to use the mix regularly, especially in the case of the mixes that required cooking.

The data obtained from the acceptability trials were analysed by r-tests.


To measure viscosity, a 15% gruel was prepared from each of the mixes containing rice flakes, puffed rice, or wheat, with the addition of 15 g of jaggery. For the raw rice mixes, a 12.5% gruel was used. A cold-paste slurry was measured on a Brookfield viscometer at spindle numbers 4, 5, 6, or 7. depending on the viscosity of the gel.


Results and discussion

The nutritive value of the weaning mixes is presented in table 2. Since the gruels fed to the children in the acceptability trials were made with equal quantities of dry mix and jaggery by weight, the nutrient content is expressed in terms of 100 g of dry mix plus 100 g of jaggery. Among the four groups. the mixes based on malted wheat (group 1) provide the most calories, protein, and vitamin A. The rice-based mixes provide less protein, although the amount increases slightly with the addition of milk powder. Substitution of milk powder for puffed amaranth increases the content of calories, protein, and calcium without making much difference in the price. The mixes made with spinach provide more iron and vitamin A than those made with drumstick leaves.

TABLE 2. Nutritive value and cost per 100 g of mix + 100 g of jaggery

Mix Moisture Calories Protein Vitamin A Iron Calcium Cost
(g)a (kcal) (g) (IU) (mg) (mg) (Rs)
Group 1
RS1 7.9 832 17.4 11,018 32.3 250 3.59
RD1 10.3 843 17.5 5,944 23.3 384 2.19
GS1 8.7 864 19.2 11,018 33.8 269 3.86
GD1 9.2 880 19.3 5,944 24.8 404 2.26
PS1 8.5 832 17.4 11,018 32.3 250 4.09
PD1 10.6 848 17.5 5,944 23.3 384 2.89
Group 2
RS2 11.5 727 10.4 10,970 29.6 216 3.49
RD2 12.1 743 10.4 5.896 20.6 350 2.09
GS2 9.6 759 11.8 10,970 31.1 235 3.76
GD2 10.8 775 11.9 5,896 22.1 370 2.36
PS2 10.7 727 10.4 10,970 29.6 216 3.99
PD2 10.2 743 10.4 5,896 20.6 350 2.59
Group 3
PS3 9.0 713 13.1 10,970 32.0 225 4.48
PD3 8.6 729 14.2 5,896 23.0 359 3.08
PMS3 9.6 832 13.4 5.485 31.3 283 4.20
PMD3 9.7 848 14.5 2,948 22.3 417 2.80
MS3 9.8 914 15.1 10,970 28.8 280 4.46
MD3 9.5 930 16.2 5,896 19.8 415 3.06
Group 4
PS4 10.4 728 10.2 10,970 41.4 222 4.20
PD4 10.5 744 11.3 5,896 32.4 360 2.80
PMS4 10.6 847 13.2 5,485 40.7 231 4.41
PMD4 10.7 863 14.3 2,948 31.7 366 3.01
MS4 11.2 929 14.5 10,970 38.2 278 4.18
MD4 10.9 945 15.6 5,896 29.2 333 2.78

a. Moisture content of loo g of mix, without jaggery.

The cost of puffed amaranth was calculated on the basis of market cost in the city. However, puffing is a well known technology in India and would lend itself to use in community programmes at the village level, with possible reductions in cost. Similarly the leafy vegetables can be grown in the village, dehydrated, and used. In fact when excess production results in a glut, dehydrating such greens would extend their shelf life and availability. Thus the cost of the mixes would be lowered by as much as a third of the calculated cost.

Sensory evaluation

When the mixes were evaluated in the laboratory to select the four that were most acceptable for trials in the community, of the group based on malted wheat (group 1), the combination with malted amaranth and spinach (GS1) was rated highest. Of those based on raw rice (group 2), the one with roasted amaranth and spinach (RS2) was the highest; and, of the ready-to-eat mixes based on puffed rice (group 3) and rice Rakes (group 4), the combinations with puffed amaranth! skim milk, and spinach (PMS3) and puffed amaranth and spinach (PS4) respectively were the highest. These four recipes were then compared with each other. The highest score was given to the mixture based on rice flakes (PS4) and the lowest to that based on malted wheat (GS1).

From the general remarks of the panelists, it was evident that the powdered leafy vegetable tended to make the cooked product less acceptable because of its dark green colour and strong flavour. The mixes made with drumstick leaves were less acceptable than those made with spinach since the leaves imparted a slightly bitter flavour. These mixes were rated acceptable by fewer panelists than those containing spinach, and also received the lowest hedonic scores.

It was suggested by most panelists that the proportion of spinach should be reduced. Since this would lower the vitamin-A, iron, and calcium content, the same amount of spinach was added in chopped form. The panelists were then asked to evaluate one mix (containing raw rice, roasted amaranth, and spinach). The mean scores and the percentage of panelists who found the product acceptable were higher for the mix with chopped spinach than for the one containing powdered greens. The mix containing chopped spinach was quite acceptable.


Viscosity is important to food intake because it contributes to an increase or decrease in the bulk of a cooked cereal product and affects taste intensity. In India most solid foods are bulky, so they do not supply the required energy to children. Malting decreases viscosity significantly.

The viscosity of the 24 mixes was measured and was lowest in those based on rice flakes. When the mixes containing three different forms of amaranth were compared, the ones with puffed amaranth had lower viscosity than those containing malted or roasted amaranth. As expected, germination (malting) decreased viscosity. The malted wheat-based formulation with malted amaranth had a viscosity of 1,290 cps, compared to 4,400 cps for the one with roasted amaranth. The viscosity of a gruel made from roasted amaranth alone was 1.690 cps. whereas for one made from amaranth after 48 hours of germination it was 610 cps. or approximately one-third of the value.

Partial or complete substitution of skim-milk powder for puffed amaranth further reduced viscosity considerably. The lowest viscosity was observed in the formulations containing rice flakes, spinach, and skim-milk powder as well as amaranth.

Keeping quality

The weaning mixes were prepared and stored in polythene bags for two months. At the end of this time, their acceptability was tested and found to be no different from that of freshly prepared mixes. No signs of spoilage in terms of rancidity, off odour or flavour, off colour, or browning and caking were observed.

The moisture content of the mixes ranged from 7.9% to 12.1%. Most dehydrated cereal foods have a good shelf life if their moisture content is below 10%. Since all the mixes had a moisture content near this level. their keeping quality should be good.

TABLE 3. Mothers' responses on the acceptability of the mixes (percentages)

  Requiring cooking Ready to-eat
asks for more 92 85 76 88
eats reluctantly 12 4 12 8
neutral 0 11 12 8
Consumption compared to regular home made food
less 0 44 4 0
more 88 85 60 96
same 11 18 36 4
likes 100 92 84 100
dislikes 0 7 8 0
can't say 0 0 4 0
Convenient to prepare
yes 100 100 100 100
no 0 0 0 0
Would prepare regularly
yes 92 78 84 92
no 8 15 16 8
Consistency preferred
runny 0 0 0 0
thin pouring 11 26 16 11
thick pouring 61 52 72 61
pastelike 4 0 4 4
semi-solid 27 18 8 27
Form of spinach preferred
powdered - 11 -  
chopped - 52 -  
neutral - 37 -  
Change in stool attributed to mix
normal 96 78 92 100
diarrhoea 4 18 8 0

Accept ability and intake

In the acceptability trials, 76%-85% of the mothers reported that the mixes were acceptable to their children (table 3). Only 4%-12% of the children ate them reluctantly, and of these 8%-12% did not show an obvious dislike for the mixes. Sixty per cent to 95% of the children were said to consume more of the mixes than of other foods offered at home.

Four per cent of the mothers did not express an opinion either in favour of or against the mixes, whereas 84% liked them and thought they were suitable for feeding infants and toddlers. All the mothers felt that the mixes were convenient, and almost all said they would not mind preparing the gruels regularly. Three mothers were not interested because they did not feel it was necessary to prepare foods especially for their children.

Except for two who dropped out because they were disinterested, the mothers were extremely cooperative and eager to know the composition of the mixes and the mode of preparation. They also wanted to know the benefits of feeding such foods to their children. One factor that could have evoked such an encouraging response was that the mothers were exposed to health talks by the medical and paramedical staff at the health centre.

Although the sensory evaluation in the laboratory showed a preference for spinach being incorporated in chopped form, it was decided that this should be confirmed with the children and mothers. Therefore during the first feeding trial, with the mix RS2, the spinach was incorporated in both forms and three-day trials were conducted with each variation. Fifty-two per cent of the children and mothers preferred the recipe containing the chopped spinach, while 37% did not mind either kind. Subsequently, the feeding trials were conducted using chopped spinach.

Very few mothers reported a change in stool consistency at the end of most of the feeding trials. With RS2, however, 18% reported loose stools. That was the first mix tested, and these children had been suffering from diarrhoea prior to the trials. Thus this response may not be attributable to feeding of the mix per se. Twenty per cent of the mothers reported that their children refused to eat other family foods and showed an obvious preference for the mixes, especially the one based on malted wheat (GS1).

At the completion of the feeding trials for all four mixes, the mothers were asked to rank them in order of preference. Sixty-eight per cent did not prefer any one mix over the others; 20% said that the mix of malted wheat and malted amaranth (GS1). was the best. Gopaldas et al. [8] reported that acceptability trials of malted versus roasted mixes showed an overwhelming response in favour of malted mixes. In the present study, although recipes containing roasted amaranth were not unacceptable, the response was clearly more favourable for the malted-wheat-based formulation.

The intakes per sitting and per day are presented in table 4. The intakes per sitting were lowest for the gruel made from mix PS4 and highest for that from (GS1). The difference in intakes between PS4 and the other three gruels by the children 6-12 months old was statistically significant. For the older children, no significant differences were found in the intakes per sitting. These findings are in line with those of Gopaldas et al. [8], who consistently found that mean intake of gruel per sitting does not exceed 100 ml for infants and 150 ml for toddlers.

TABLE 4. Mean intakes of weaning mixes by children (SD)

  Age group (months)
6-2 13-18
Gruel per sitting (ml)
GS1 115 30 13 44
RS2 105 30 104 54
PMS3 106 36 103 54
PS4 97 36 102 40
Mix per day (g)
GS1 62.8 23.1 77.8 25.7
RS2a 63.8 25.9 64.6 28.9
RS2b 61.6 27.0 70.6 + 29.6
PMS3 58.5 25.3 64.4 28.9
PS4 61.7 25.9 68.4 + 24.8

a. Made with powdered spinach.
b. Made with chopped spinach.

It has been suggested that it is desirable to aim at gruels that have a calorie density of at least 1 kcal per millilitre of gruel. The calorie densities of the four mixes tested were 1.29, 1.09, 1.06. and 1.09 kcal per millilitre for gruels GS1, RS2, PMS3, and PS4 respectively. Thus 100 ml of gruel provided 106-130 kcal. If a child consumed such a gruel three or four times a day in these quantities, in addition to the normal diet, it would provide an additional 318-390 kcal a day, which is approximately one-fourth of the day's energy requirement. This amount would provide 76%100% of the daily requirement for iron and more than the recommended daily intake for vitamin A. Considering that PEM, vitamin-A deficiency, and iron-deficiency anaemia are the three major nutrition problems among Indian children, such nutritionally balanced mixes would help to ensure that these conditions would not occur in children who consumed them daily.

With regard to the intake of mix per day, no significant differences were observed in the younger children, even between the mixes containing chopped or powdered spinach. However, among the older children, consumption of the malted-wheat formulation was significantly greater (p<.05) than that of the puffed-rice and raw-rice formulations. The amount of mix consumed would meet about one-third of the day's calorie requirement.

The intake of calories, protein, -carotene, iron, and calcium by the children during the feeding trials was compared to that prior to the study. Significant increases (p < .01) were found in all nutrient intakes during the trials, with the increases in calories, iron, and vitamin A being greater than those for protein and calcium. As mentioned earlier, the children had already been receiving food supplements. In addition, they were fed with milk and/or cereals and pulses at home. This practice did not alter during the feeding trial, indicating that the mothers did not use the mixes as a substitute for the food that the child would ordinarily receive. The significantly increased intakes of calories, iron, and vitamin A indicated the excellent nutrient composition of the mixes.

TABLE 5. Mean nutrient intakes (+SD) of children's diets supplemented with weaning mixes

  Calories Protein Vitamin A Iron Vitamin
(kcal) (g) (IU) (mg)| (mg)
6-12 months
Baseline 681 398 20.8 11.5 279 227 4.6 4.4 493 362
GS1 1,103 353 30.3 10.0 7,020 2,528 24.6 9.7 697 380
RS2a 924 259 26.2 9.3 6.895 3,088 23.4 10.6 690 323
RS2b 1,028 272 26.2 9.7 6,277 3,375 24.0 11.2 672 281
PMS3 1,018 371 26.1 9.3 3,688 1,650 20.9 9.2 761 380
PS4 992 261 27.1 8.6 6,891 2,978 28.3 11.3 687 310
13-18 months
Baseline 808 262 22.9 7.6 459 336 6.6 5.3 496 292
GS1 1,347 277 34.9 6.6 8,720 2,689 32.9 9.5 583 92
RS2a 1,113 219 28.4 7.8 8,851 5,001 30.4 9.8 531 93
RS2b 1,140 231 28.4 8.2 8,839 3,170 30.3 10.7 547 106
PMS3 1,163 241 27.5 10.4 4,477 1.872 26.8 8.7 571 112
PS4 1,252228 27.2 5.7 9,1534.250 35.7 10.8 573 144

Values do not take breast-milk intake into account. Values for the weaning mixes represent intake of the normal daily diet plus the mix.
a. Made with powdered spinach.
b. Made with chopped spinach.

On the first day of the trial, preparation of the gruel to a thick pouring consistency was demonstrated to the mothers. Most of mothers (52%-72%) fed their children a gruel of the same consistency; however, about 27% said that their children preferred a semisolid consistency. Gopaldas et al. [8] reported that mothers preferred to feed their children with thick spoonable gruels with a viscosity of 2,000 to 6,000 cps, rather than free-flowing gruels of about 1,000 cps. Thus by increasing the percentage of solids in the gruel, its nutrient density could be enhanced.



This study showed that amaranth grains incorporated into weaning foods are acceptable to children. Mean intakes of mix per day ranged from 58 g to 78 g. On an average, a child could consume 60 g to 65 g per day.

Keeping in mind that the stomach of a toddler has a capacity of about 200 ml. these mixes would have to be fed four times. If the child's normal diet of two meals from the family not were supplemented with about 60 g of dry mix daily, it would be more nutritionally balanced. Such a mix would be more useful than the snack foods or biscuits commonly given by low-income mothers to their children.

Commercialization of such foods might not be effective because of their high cost, as is already the case with the cereal foods available in the market. However, at the village level, already known household technologies such as germination and puffing could be popularized, and such mixes could be prepared in village cooperatives. or mahila mandals.



The authors thank Dr. Gopa Kothari, Head of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, for allowing this study to be carried out at the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre of the Sion Hospital in Bombay.



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