Gluten-free recipes can be a challenge and looking at all the grain bins at the natural food store can be intimidating. Whether you have Celiac disease, gluten intolerance, wheat allergies, or your choice is to follow a gluten-free diet, you need to know not just which grains have gluten but which grains are gluten-free and can be substituted. Here is a list of 10 gluten-free grains with a little information about each one.
- Amaranth (Amaranthus SPP.) – a tiny grain which was a staple of the Aztecs. Cortez had anyone growing this crop put to death when trying to eliminate this civilization. Has a mild peppery taste. Protein is relatively high at 13%-14% and contains lysine which is an amino acid to make this a complete protein. It’s a pseudo-grain like buckwheat and quinoa. Often cooked as a cereal similar to oatmeal, in sweet or savory dishes, as a side dish, a salad, crackers, even pancakes and popped like popcorn (in a smaller size).
- Buckwheat (Fagopyrum Esculentum) – not a wheat but a fruit seed related to the rhubarb plant. It contains rutin which helps strengthen capillary walls and is being studied for its ability to lower blood pressure. Deep nutty flavor and delicious with sweeter vegetables like carrots, parsnips and caramelized onions. The name is recognized here with buckwheat pancakes, but you may not know that crepes from Brittany, kasha from Russia and soba noodles from Japan, are all made from buckwheat.
- Corn – (Zea Mays) is really a grain not a vegetable. Think cornmeal, corn flour, corn tortillas, polenta and cornbread. A different variety called sweet corn for corn-on-the-cob as a vegetable and of course there’s another variety called popcorn. Traditional in Latin cuisine, corn is treated with alkali for masa harina. This releases the niacin in corn to help those who depend on this grain as a staple food to avoid pellagra (a niacin or B3 deficiency) which affects the skin, digestive system and the nervous system. Eating corn with beans creates a mix of amino acids that increases the protein value for humans. Research is showing that corn has the highest level of antioxidants of any grain or vegetable and is about twice that of apples.
- Millet (Panicum Miliaceum) – a tiny grain, high in magnesium which helps nerves and muscles. Grown for thousands of years and popular in many diets around the world. The leading staple grain in India, common in China, South America, Russia, and the Himalayas. Now becoming popular in the US and not just as bird food. A mild hint of corn flavor with a grassy edge like quinoa.
- Oats (Avena Sativa) – naturally gluten-free, but often is stored with wheat and therefore gluten contaminated. Know where your oats come from to be safe. Oats almost never have their bran and germ removed during processing, which makes them somewhat unique. Studies show that oats have beta-glucan which helps lower cholesterol and has an antioxidant called avenanthramides which helps protect blood vessels from damage by the LDL (lousy) cholesterol.
- Rice (Oryza Sativa) – White rice is refined which means it has the bran and germ removed. Converted rice is parboiled before being refined. This process pushes some of the B vitamins into the endosperm so they are not lost when the bran is removed. This means that converted rice is a healthier option than white rice but still missing some nutrients found in brown rice. Brown rice is lower in fiber than most of the whole grains, but rich in many nutrients. Brown rice is always a whole grain as is black rice, red rice and other colors except white. Rice is one of the most easily digested grains which makes it most often recommended as a baby’s first solid food. Also great for many folks on a restricted diet and/or gluten intolerant.
- Quinoa (Chenopodium Quinoa) (keen-wah) – a tiny seed from South America grown for centuries in the Andes by the Inca. Prized for its high protein content. It comes in different varieties: white, purple, red and black and as a blend. White is milder looks similar to sesame seeds. All have an earthy flavor with a slight grassy, or slight herbal taste. This seed is naturally coated with saponin which gives a bitter taste to keep insects and birds from eating it. Most packaged quinoa already has this coating removed but you may still find recipes that tell you to rinse it to get rid of the bitter taste.This step isn’t usually necessary today.
- Sorghum or Milo (Sorghum SPP.) – Originated in Africa around 8000 BC. This is the 3rd most important crop here in America and 5th in the world. A smoother flour texture than rice flour for baking. Baked goods are a softer texture, not gritty.
- Teff (Eragrostis Tef)- Another ancient grain originated in Africa and the main source of nutrition for an estimated 2/3 of Ethiopians. Prepared as injera (a spongy) flatbread is 100% teff. These grains are very tiny (about 1/150th of a wheat kernel) from a reddish-brown color to ivory. The ivory is milder in flavor. High in calcium and vitamin C. Has a soft melt-in-your-mouth texture when cooked.
- Wild Rice (Zizania SPP.) – Is actually a grass (an aquatic grass) and the only grain native to North America. Even today it’s harvested by hand in canoes in the Great Lakes area of the US, by American Indians mostly in Minnesota. Today mostly grown wild and now also as a cultivated crop in California, Oregon and the Midwest. Wild rice has a distinct nutty flavor and takes longer to cook than white rice and stays chewy. Often combined with brown rice.
Hopefully this information about 10 gluten-free grains will open your eyes to new grains and flavors you can substitute in your gluten-free recipes. Pay attention to your seasonings as well. Use gluten-free seasonings as you might not know that many seasoning blends have gluten added.