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a guide to gluten-free grains

One of the more fun parts about going gluten-free for the elimination diet has been discovering all the fun kinds of naturally occurring gluten-free foods there are out there. I am obviously very new to this, but I’ve already tried a pretty big breadth of grains from my local co-op’s bulk bin and I am amazed at how varied the grains are that are out there today. I thought I might shed a little light on the basics of gluten-free grains and my experience with them. Of course, there are a lot more than what I’m listing here, but is what we are currently using to stay on track.

Amaranth

Amaranth is a teeny-tiny little grain from the Amaranth herb. It’s popularity dates way back to the Aztecs, but almost became extinct after the Spanish banned the grain because Aztecs used it in human sacrifice rituals (!). It was resurrected (har, har, get it?) in the mid-70s and has become increasingly popular ever since.

Amaranth is high in protein, amino fatty acids, fiber, iron and calcium. It has a slightly nutty and sweet flavor. You can also pop amaranth like you do popcorn! I haven’t quite mastered the art without burning it yet.

Gluten-Free Oats

Naturally, oats are gluten-free, but cross-contamination is so prevalent in oat growing and processing that almost all oats on today’s store shelves contain gluten. It is possible to find some brands of gluten-free oats (make sure to look for packages that explicitly say it).

MY OTHER RECIPES

Oats are best known for their role in breakfast, but oats can also be used in place of breadcrumbs to add texture to savory dishes. Oats are rich in fiber, protein and high in folate, magnesium and thiamin.

Quinoa

Quinoa has become a pretty trendy little grain over the past few years, and for good reason! The flavor of quinoa is really spectacular. I think it tastes buttery and nutty, without ever adding anything to it. When quinoa cooks, the germ of the seed separates and it looks like a little tiny planet with a ring around it. The end result is slightly chewy, but soft.

If you tend to suffer from headaches, try putting more quinoa in your diet! Quinoa is packed full of magnesium which helps restrict blood vessels in the body, which can help relieve headache symptoms. I can actually tell when I’m low on magnesium because I start getting daily headaches.

Brown Rice

For some reason, I assumed that rice had gluten in it, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was wrong. I guess I always assumed that something as sticky as rice must have gluten in it. All kinds of rice are gluten-free, but the real nutritional star is brown rice. Brown rice is less processed than other kinds of rice and therefore retains the grain’s original nutritional profile. From WHfoods.com:

The complete milling and polishing that converts brown rice into white rice destroys 67% of the vitamin B3, 80% of the vitamin B1, 90% of the vitamin B6, half of the manganese, half of the phosphorus, 60% of the iron, and all of the dietary fiber and essential fatty acids.

Wowzas!

Buckwheat

Buckwheat was a new one for us in the past few weeks, and admittedly, it wasn’t our favorite. Buckwheat takes quite a while to cook and even after cooking, it stays very chewy and solid. If you get roasted buckwheat the flavor is very, very nutty, but the unroasted variety is supposedly milder (we haven’t tried it yet). Buckwheat definitely has its benefits though! It has more fiber than both oats and brown rice.

Millet

If you are anything like me, whenever you hear “millet” you automatically think bird seed, but I promise it is human food, too. Once cooked, millet has a fluffy and creamy texture. A cup of cooked millet gives you 24% of your daily allowance of phosphorous. Phosphorous helps to structure almost every cell in the body.


What’s your favorite gluten free grain?

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24 comments

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  • Athena SAYS

    Thank you for breaking these grains down. I’ve heard of them all before, but I’ve only eaten a few of them. I just started eating quinoa recently, and I love it. I’ve only eaten the red quinoa. Is there a difference in taste between the red and white one?

    • Cassie SAYS

      I don’t think there is a lot of difference. I’d say red is a bit more chewy, nut the difference is negligible to me.

  • Krissie SAYS

    I bought millet yesterday because it was like 1/3 the price of quinoa. Used it in my breakfast porridge with yogurt, ricotta, choc chips and pecans and it is fantastic! Buckwheat is next on my list to try. I’ll keep you updated.

  • Katie SAYS

    I miss grains. I gave them up because they provoke a pretty strong inflammatory response in my uh, digestive area and in my joints. Quinoa is delicious with feta cheese, greek olives and some diced tomatoes, though. :)

    • Cassie SAYS

      Is it all grains? Or just certain types?

      • Katie SAYS

        I tolerate rice okay (it’s hypoallergenic! the more you know) but anything wheaty and grainy? Fuggetaboutit. I’ll spare you the TMI. ;) Eating wheat tends to aggravate my RA pain, too.

        Look up Wheat Belly by Dr. Davis, Dr. Eades’ blog, or the Fathead movie (I think it’s on Youtube?), they’re great at all the sciency stuff behind it if you want to learn more.

  • Aubrey SAYS

    LOVE quinoa. We eat it all the time! I’m also a big fan of brown rice. I haven’t ever tried amaranth, but I should! I’m trying to cut down on eating so much white rice and replacing it with better for you grains.

  • beebea SAYS

    Haha, one time my dad wanted to try millet (several years ago, before Whole Foods was big) and he couldn’t find any in the stores, so he sifted and cooked the millet in some bird food. He is so weird. :)

  • Paula SAYS

    This is a dumb question… but what aisle would quinoa be in in your typical grocery store? My husband and I have looked everywhere for it and can’t find it! It’s now like it’s some crazy obscure thing. We live in West Michigan and shop at Meijer.

    sidebar: I work in the Meijer buying office…I guess I could go find out who the grains buyer is and ask them… but us fashion folks don’t venture down to the foods floor very often!

  • Wow – I had no idea rice was gluten free! I’ve hopped on the quinoa bandwagon a couple times & really like it. But I don’t cook it very often because that whole “rinsing” thing is kind of a pain. Do you really have to rinse it a million times before cooking it? Or can you just dump it out of the bag/jar into the pot?

  • I love all of the above grains in little doses! Buckwheat is great for salads or pilaf.

    On the rinsing quinoa thing, if you’re not sure, cook a test batch (just 1/4 cup or so) and taste it–if it’s bitter, you need to rinse that brand, if it’s not bitter, then you don’t (the rinsing thing is sort of a holdover from the 70s when quinoa first made a splash in the states…it was processed differently and had more of the outer layers intact…modern processing removes a lot more of the outer layer, so most brands don’t really require rinsing unless you think they taste bitter).

    and speaking of amaranth (but not on the topic of grains, really), amaranth leaves make a tasty tasty salad…

  • GREAT post! Have you ever used buckwheat flour? It is SOOO good! Used it in veggie burgers awhile back…perfection!
    http://cueyourlife.com/2011/09/12/vegan-love-a-first-attempt/

    I am having a little trouble with Quinoa. I don’t know if it’s the texture once it’s cooked….but I can’t get into it! I’m going to keep trying though…holy healthy!

    • Cassie SAYS

      I’ve had buckwheat pancakes and really liked them, but Babyface wasn’t a fan. :(

      • Erika A SAYS

        It might be more palatable if you did 50-50 oat flour and buckwheat flour. Makes a hearty pancake that doesn’t have that “green” buckwheat taste.

        Then again, as you said below, some people just don’t like it! :)

  • lindsay SAYS

    I love all of these except for the dreaded amaranth! ha! And I suppose I have a good reason. The two times I’ve tried to make it I think I over cooked it and it came out sooo gooey and gross. Maybe I’ll try again some day but that grain has scared me a bit.

    • Cassie SAYS

      Hahaha! One think I’ve definitely noticed is that not all grains are made for all people. Some people LOVE buckwheat, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get on that train. :P

  • Sara SAYS

    Thank you so much for posting this! It’s really helpful. Not really sure how to cook any of these but that’s what Google is for, right?

    • Cassie SAYS

      Yeah, I left out cooking ingredients because they are all pretty similar. Just like rice. A certain ratio of grain to liquid. But Google will give you the full details!

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