Gluten is a type of protein found in many cereal grains, particularly those in the wheat, rye, and barley families. It causes bread dough to become elastic, affecting both the shape and the texture of the bread. When yeast is added, gluten in the dough traps carbon dioxide bubbles formed by fermentation, causing the bread to rise. Ingredients with gluten may also be found in less obvious food items, including some soups, sauces, processed cheeses, cold cuts, and even salad dressings.
For people sensitive to gluten, ingesting too much of this protein can lead to abdominal discomfort, gastrointestinal problems, and headaches. Individuals who develop the autoimmune disorder celiac disease should avoid gluten entirely. Eating gluten triggers an immune response that causes damage to the lining of the intestines. Not only can this lead to the same gastrointestinal problems that you see with sensitive individuals, but it can also interfere with the absorption of other vital nutrients.
Fortunately, there are both recipes that don’t require grains, like this amazing cloud bread, and an abundance of gluten-free grains available for cooking. Some of these grains, such as rice and quinoa, should be easy to find in the aisles of your average grocery chain. Others, like teff and sorghum, may require a visit to a specialty store.
*Baked goods made with gluten-free flour should include a thickener such as xanthan gum or guar gum, or the final product may be dry and crumbly.
4 Everyday Gluten-Free Grains
Rice is the base for cultural dishes around the world, including risotto from Italy, fried rice from China, and Tacu-Tacu from Peru. To create white rice, the outer sheath of the grain is removed during processing. Brown and wild rice still retain their outer layers which contain valuable fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The outer layers also give the finished product a chewier texture and a nutty flavor. All forms of rice, from Aborio to wild, are naturally gluten-free.
Cornmeal, made from dried, ground corn, can be served as a simple dish, such as porridge, or transformed into more complex creations like cornbread and tortillas. Most cornmeal is prepared with yellow corn, but it can be made from either blue or white corn too. Stone-ground cornmeal retains more flavor and nutrients than steel-ground cornmeal, but steel-ground cornmeal has a longer shelf life.
The seeds of the flowering quinoa plant are typically classified as a whole grain. Not only does this South American plant offer a gluten-free source of fiber, B vitamins, and protein, it also provides essential minerals like iron, magnesium, and zinc. You can prepare quinoa the same way that you would prepare rice. Cooking one cup of seeds in two cups of liquid typically yields three cups of prepared quinoa. It is important to note that quinoa seeds are naturally coated in a bitter saponin. While most prepared quinoa is already rinsed prior to packaging, many brands still advise rinsing the seeds again before making your meal.
Although a field of oats may be difficult to differentiate from a field of wheat at first glance, the two cereals are not in the same genus and have different properties. While oats are naturally gluten-free food, they are often processed using equipment that wheat and rye plants were processed on. This means that oats frequently become cross-contaminated with gluten proteins. A gluten-free label on your oats indicates processing on equipment free from grains with gluten to avoid accidental exposure. Oats are risky for those with celiac disease compared to other grains on this list. Even oats labeled gluten-free may trigger a reaction in some celiac disease sufferers.
4 Exotic Gluten-Free Grains
Millet, an important crop in the semi-arid regions of Africa and Asia, is a tall cereal grass with tiny seeds. The seeds of the millet plant have been consumed by humans for thousands of years and are high in protein, several B vitamins, and essential minerals like manganese. Millet has a delicate, slightly nutty flavor with a hint of sweetness. Its fluffy texture when cooked makes this an excellent grain for baking and pancakes.
Teff is an annual grass from Africa with tiny edible grains that can be prepared as a side dish, as porridge, or incorporated into flatbread. It is even used in preparing alcoholic drinks. This grain is a staple of both human and livestock nutrition in its native Ethiopia. It is both a powerhouse of fiber and it provides a rich source of healthy proteins and minerals. Teff is a fine grain with a nutty, earthy flavor that can enhance almost any dish.
Amaranth is an extremely versatile family of plants that is often seen as a summer weed. In the wild, many types of amaranth are referred to as pigweed. Some varieties of amaranth, however, are cultivated for their leafy greens, for their grain-like seeds, and for their beauty. The grains have a sweet, nutty flavor and a crunchy texture when cooked. Like the other grains on this list, the amaranth seed provides abundant protein, minerals, and vitamin B6.
Sorghum is a worldwide gluten-free crop with a significant impact, cultivated in Australia, Africa, Asia, and the United States. It is often used to make a sweet syrup with a distinctive sour note to it, which is poured over biscuits or pancakes. When used as a grain, it has a pleasant, chewy texture and a mild, earthy flavor that closely resembles the flavor of wheat berries. Not only is this grain a wonderful addition to main dishes, soups, and stews, it makes a tasty, well-balanced flour, and it can be popped like popcorn to make a healthy snack.
Gluten-free grains, both familiar and exotic, provide an abundant source of vitamins, minerals, and proteins. They can easily be transformed into an array of delicious dishes, from appetizers to desserts and anything in between. Using these eight fantastic wheat substitutes, you can host your favorite gluten-free friend or family member with confidence or create scrumptious gluten-free meals for yourself and your family.
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