Gluten free grains and seeds 
and how to use them

There are many gluten free grains and seeds to enjoy if your body can't tolerate wheat, rye and barley. Some of them may be unfamiliar to you but it is definitely worth getting to know how you can incorporate them into your everyday meals and treats.

There are so many options...

  • You can serve them as a side dish, in place of bulgar wheat or couscous
  • They can also be flaked and make a great replacement for taboo cereals
  • Ground into flour they can be used in gluten free baking or to thicken sauces and soups

Learning which grains and seeds can be used for which purpose can be tricky, so I thought a little guidance might be helpful. 

Gluten free grains list

Amaranth

Actually a tiny golden seed, but used like a grain, amaranth must always be cooked before consuming, as when raw it contains compounds that can inhibit absorption of essential nutrients. It is actually one of the few plants that provides a complete protein, along with being an excellent source of fibre, calcium, iron, potassium and vitamins A and D.

Bear in mind that amaranth has a high glycemic index of 97 and is therefore not ideal if you are trying to lose weight or have diabetes.

The seeds can be boiled (1 cup seeds to 2 cups water) for 20 minutes and eaten as a cereal. You can also add them to soups and stews where they will gradually dissolve, thickening the meal as it cooks. You can even pop them like popcorn!

Amaranth flour has an intense, nutty flavour and therefore is often combined with other gluten free flours in a recipe. Use 1 part amaranth to 3 parts of a different flour for the best results.

Baking suggestions: spicy cakes, chocolate cakes, chocolate chip cookies - the colour and flavour of the flour is disguised by the other ingredients in these recipes.

Buckwheat

NOTE: Many commercial products that use buckwheat flour also include wheat flour in their ingredient list. 

DON'T assume that because buckwheat is gluten free anything you buy containing it will also be! For example Japanse Soba noodles and italian buckwheat pasta are not safe on the gluten free diet.

Buckwheat can cause confusion due to its name, but it is a gluten free grain. In fact the plant is related to rhubarb and not wheat.

This ingredient can be great for diabetics as studies have shown it is beneficial in the management of blood sugar levels and can also lower your cholesterol. It contains all eight essential amino acids required by the body along with high fibre levels making it one of the worlds healthiest foods. 

Roasted buckwheat groats, known as Kasha, have an earthy flavour. They can be eaten as a side dish or for the base of a salad. You can also incorporate them into a tasty stuffing for poultry along with bacon and chestnuts.

At breakfast time you can cook up a pot of buckwheat porridge or make pancakes using flour made from the ground grain. 

Buckwheat flour weigh heavier than wheat flour. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of all purpose wheat flour it would weigh 4.5 ounces whereas 1 cup of buckwheat flour would be nearer 6 ounces. Therefore, buckwheat is often combined with lighter starches in gluten free recipes. As the flour is brown these additions also avoid your baked goods looking too dark.

Corn (or maize) 

Does corn contain gluten?

The simple answer is no, the maize plant is gluten free. However, the confusion here lays in the fact that in the US cornstarch is sometimes a combination of corn and wheat flours and therefore should not be eaten if you are on a gluten free diet.

Having said that, the soft white powder known as cornflour in the UK is totally safe. It is ideal for thickening sauces, gravies and soups, by first mixing with a little cold water into a paste and then adding it to the other ingredients. This avoids a lumpy result.

Cornmeal is ground from dried maize and although it be can be labelled, coarse, medium or fine they are all grittier than wheat flour. 

Corn is used worldwide, although it is mainly grown in the USA where it is a key ingredient of cornbread. This is a quick bread made with baking powder instead of yeast. However, some cornbread recipes include wheat flour, so do be careful.

Another US favourite is corn grits, served as a side dish or breakfast cereal. This is made from hominy, which is the hulled grain from which the bran and germ has been removed. Before cooking the grits resemble fine sand but when cooked the dish has a smooth texture.

If you travel to Mexico you are likely to encounter corn tortillas. These are simple to make at home especially if you have a tortilla press which helps to ensure a good shape of uniform thickness.

In Jamaica you may be served cornmeal pudding, but again this can contain wheat flour so beware!

Polenta is an Italian dish where traditionally the cornmeal is cooked slowly for a long time. Constant stirring is necessary. When cooked it can be shaped and fried or grilled, often with the addition of flavourings such as cheese or tomato sauce.

Millet

Millet is one of the least allergenic and easily digested gluten free grains. I have to say it is my favourite!

The grains are small and yellow. What looks like a hole in the middle is actually a dark mark on one side. You may have come across them sold as bird seed, but don't let that put you off.

They make a wonderful addition to soups, stews and casseroles in place of the taboo pearl barley. As well as thickening the food it also makes it more nutritious as it is a great source of protein, magnesium and is known to lower your blood pressure. 

Millet can be cooked and served as a side dish or used in a pilaff or paella recipe instead of rice for a tasty change. 

I buy millet flakes online to make into porridge or use in recipes in place of oats. I also like to sprinkle these on my muffin recipes for a crunchy topping. 

The grains can be milled into a delicious gluten free flour and used for baking as its mild flavour does not overpower other ingredients. 

Oats

I am hesitant to include oats on this page, as although they are gluten free the risk of contamination is high so you may wish to search for certified gluten free oats if you use them at all. There are other gluten free alternatives offered on this page which can be used instead.

Quinoa

Quinoa was once only used it is native South America but is now more widely known. It is actually a seed, not a grain. I have heard all sorts of pronunciations for this word but the correct way of saying it is keen-wah. 

It resembles bulgar wheat or couscous but it s a nutritious, gluten free alternative to those grains. In addition to the white variety it is also available in red or black. 

Again it can be cooked and served with a main dish, or used as the base of any recipe that would normally use rice such as a pilaff or paella. I have also enjoyed a porridge made with quinoa instead of oats. Served cold it can form part of a salad. 

I love to include quinoa as part of the flour content in many of my recipes. I normally mix it with starches such as tapioca or potato to produce light baked goods. Click here for quinoa recipes

Rice

No gluten free home should be without brown rice flour in my opinion. It is always in my cupboard and has been since I was left home and started cooking for myself. In fact, it was one of very few gluten free grains used back then. Now we have such a wider variety!

Brown rice flour is ground or milled from unpolished rice and contains the bran making it more nutritious than white rice flour. I enjoy its slightly nutty taste. I normally combine it with gluten free starches such as tapioca and potato, or with almond flour when baking.

Rice, of course, can also be cooked as an accompaniment to a main dish (instructions here) or made into a milky rice pudding for dessert.

Teff

Teff grains are the smallest in the world! You would get 150 of these for the same weight as a grain of wheat. 

It is actually too small to remove any part of it in processing, so it is a true whole grain and full of fibre. It provides calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, aluminium, barium and thiamin in high levels. And for lysine levels (an important amino acid) it can beat wheat or barley hands down!

Teff comes in three colours: white, brown and red. The most sought after is the white variety, although the highest iron concentration is in the red grain. All varieties are gluten free.

This grain can be added to soups and stews to thicken them and add nutrients. You can either cook it first and then just add it to the soup for the last 10 minutes of cooking time. Or you can just pop it in and cook it along with the rest of the ingredients.

One way I like to use it is to first cook it and then mix with ground meat, onion, garlic, herbs, seeds etc to make lovely burgers. I also throw a little in with a stir fry.

Traditionally it was ground into a flour, fermented for 3 days and then made into bread in its native Ethiopia. We can use it for gluten free breads, pancakes, cakes or scones either by itself or mixed with other flours.

Enjoy gluten free grains and seeds

Don't forget to ring the changes and substitute gluten free grains for those that you can no longer eat if you have celiac disease or are gluten intolerant. Some will inevitably turn out to be family favourites while others you may only use occasionally. 

These ingredients are available online or you may find some of them in your local store. Beware open bins where you scoop the grains out yourself as the risk of contamination is high. Also remember to check the food labels to ensure there are no added ingredients in packaged grains.

To save money, you might also like to consider investing in a grain mill and grinding your own gluten free flours. 

- Gluten Free Grains

  

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