Gluten-free recipes: what 10 grains can be substituted for wheat?
Gluten-free recipes can be challenging and looking at all the grain containers in the health 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 only which grains are gluten-free, but which grains are gluten-free and can be substituted.
Here’s a list of 10 gluten-free grains with a little information on each one.
- Amaranth (Amaranthus SPP.) – a tiny grain that was a staple food of the Aztecs. Cortez had anyone who cultivated this crop killed when he tried to eliminate this civilization. It has a mild spicy flavor. The protein is relatively high (13% -14%) and contains lysine, which is an amino acid that makes it a complete protein. It is a pseudo-grain like buckwheat and quinoa. It is often cooked as an oatmeal-like cereal, in sweet or savory dishes, as a side dish, salad, crackers, even pancakes, and popped like popcorn (in a smaller size).
- Buckwheat (Fagopyrum Esculentum): It is not a wheat, but a fruit seed related to the rhubarb plant. It contains routine that helps strengthen capillary walls and is being studied for its ability to lower blood pressure. Deep nutty and delicious flavor with sweeter veggies like carrots, parsnips, and caramelized onions. The name is recognized here with the buckwheat pancakes, but you might not know that the crepes from Brittany, the kasha from Russia, and the soba noodles from Japan are made from buckwheat.
- Corn – (Zea Mays) is really a grain, not a vegetable. Think cornmeal, cornmeal, corn tortillas, polenta, and cornbread. A different variety called sweet corn for corn on the cob as a vegetable and of course there is another variety called popcorn. Traditional in Latin cuisine, corn is treated with alkali to obtain masa flour. This releases the niacin from corn to help those who depend on this grain as a staple to avoid pellagra (a deficiency of niacin or B3) that affects the skin, digestive system and nervous system. Eating corn with beans creates an amino acid blend that increases the value of protein for humans. Research shows that corn has the highest antioxidant level of any grain or vegetable, about twice that of apples.
- Son (Panicum miliaceum): a tiny grain, high in magnesium, that helps nerves and muscles. Cultivated 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 it is becoming popular in the US and not just as bird food. A slight hint of corn flavor with a grassy edge like quinoa.
- Oatmeal (Avena Sativa) – Naturally gluten free, but is often stored with wheat and therefore contaminated with gluten. Know where your oatmeal comes from to be safe. Oatmeal is almost never removed from the bran and germ during processing, making it unique. Studies show that oats have beta-glucan that helps lower cholesterol and has an antioxidant called avenanthramides that helps protect blood vessels from damage caused by LDL (lousy) cholesterol.
- Rice (Oryza Sativa) – White rice is refined, which means that the bran and germ are removed. The converted rice is parboiled before refining. This process pushes some of the B vitamins into the endosperm so that they are not lost when the bran is extracted. This means that converted rice is a healthier option than white rice, but it still lacks some of the nutrients found in brown rice. Brown rice is lower in fiber than most whole grains, but it is rich in many nutrients. Brown rice is always a whole grain, just like black rice, red rice, and other colors except white. Rice is one of the easiest grains to digest, making it most often recommended as a baby’s first solid food. It is also ideal for many people on a restricted diet and / or gluten intolerant.
- Quinoa (Chenopodium Quinoa) (keen-wah) – a small seed from South America cultivated for centuries in the Andes by the Incas. Valued for its high protein content. It comes in different varieties: white, purple, red and black and as a blend. The white is softer and looks like sesame seeds. They all have an earthy flavor with a slight grassy or herbal flavor. This seed is naturally coated with saponin which gives it a bitter taste to prevent insects and birds from eating it. Most packaged quinoa has already had this coating removed, but you can still find recipes that tell you to rinse it to remove the bitter taste.
- Sorghum or Milo (Sorghum SPP.) – It originated in Africa around 8000 BC. This is the third most important crop here in America and the fifth in the world. A softer flour texture than rice flour for baking. Baked goods have a softer, not gritty texture.
- Teff (Eragrostis Tef) – Another ancient grain originated in Africa and the main source of nutrition for about 2/3 of Ethiopians. Prepared as injera flatbread (a fluffy one) it is 100% teff. These grains are very small (about 1/150 of a grain of wheat) of a reddish brown to ivory color. Ivory has a milder flavor. High in calcium and vitamin C. It has a smooth texture that melts in your mouth when cooked.
- Wild rice (Zizania SPP.) – It is actually a herb (an aquatic herb) and the only grain native to North America. Even today it is hand-picked in canoes in the Great Lakes area of the USA, by American Indians primarily in Minnesota. Today it is grown primarily wild and now also as a cultivated crop in California, Oregon, and the Midwest. Wild rice has a distinctive nutty flavor and takes longer to cook than white rice and remains chewy. Often combined with brown rice.
Hopefully, this information on 10 gluten-free grains will open your eyes to new grains and flavors that you can substitute in your gluten-free recipes. Pay attention to your seasonings too. Use gluten-free seasonings, as you may not know that many seasoning mixes have gluten added.