If you are new to gluten free eating, you might be fooled by some other grains that you think are gluten free, besides wheat, rye and barley. They can make you sick.
Some of these might surprise you.
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It looks like rice, it acts like rice, it’s often combined with rice into a tasty pilaf dish. But it’s most definitely not gluten-free. Orzo is a type of pasta made from semolina wheat flour. Watch out for it mixed into rice pilaf dishes (where it can be exceedingly difficult to spot), in soups, on top of salads, and under sauces.
Couscous, a favorite in Mediterranean dishes, also looks a little like rice (but not as much as orzo). When cooked, it also resembles other gluten-free grains, such as quinoa and millet. Don’t be fooled: couscous is made from durum wheat flour. I started eating this when I first tried to stop eating so many carbs. Big mistake! I couldn’t figure out why I kept getting a stomachache.
This gluten-y grain hides in plain sight: it doesn’t make any bones about being a form of wheat, but many claim that — because it’s an ancient form of wheat — it won’t gluten us. I’ve heard anecdotal reports from a few people who’ve had good experiences with Einkorn (and its close relative Kamut), but medical research indicates these ancient wheat varieties do contain some gluten, and potentially can cause immune system reactions in people with celiac disease. I’ve written about this before. I still haven’t gotten up the nerve to try it.
This seems to be the grain-du-jour in some gourmet and health food specialty stores. All of a sudden, half the salads include farro, and the stores are selling small bags of the grain for $7 apiece. But what in the world is farro? Farro refers to various forms of ancient wheat. I have read that this is a safe substitute for wheat if you are gluten intolerant. It isn’t.
I am mentioning wheat berries because they appeared in a “gluten free” quinoa salad at a local restaurant. They were buried in the quinoa. Apparently, something called “wheat berries” isn’t considered to have gluten by kitchen staff. Just goes to show how careful you have to be.
So, what can you eat instead?
Sorghum: Iron-Rich African Grain
Sorghum originated in Africa and now is cultivated in many tropical and sub-tropical countries worldwide. In the U.S., it’s primarily used for animal feed, although its space in the gluten-free food market is growing. Sorghum, which tastes like a very mild, sweet corn, works well as an ingredient in gluten-free baking mixes, or cooked with water as a hot cereal. Combined with eggs and a little water, it makes decent (and quick) gluten-free pancakes. It’s also frequently used to brew gluten-free beer. Sorghum is high in iron and fiber — half a cup of whole-grain sorghum flour provides about 25% of your daily iron requirement, plus 6 grams of fiber.
Buckwheat: Popular In Hot, Cold Cereals
Despite the off-putting name, buckwheat is not related to wheat and therefore is gluten-free. It’s actually not a grain, either; instead, it’s actually considered a fruit. But most cultures that have cultivated buckwheat use it as a grain substitute, most frequently as hot or cold gluten-free cereal.
Tapioca: Not Just Your Mother’s Pudding
Many of us know tapioca from creamy tapioca pudding (which I actually really love). But when used in a gluten-free diet, tapioca — a starch that’s extracted from the root of the cassava plant — has many more uses than just dessert. Combined with sorghum and rice flour, tapioca flour can serve to provide a smoother, less gritty texture for gluten-free baked goods, which is why you see it as an ingredient in so many mixes.
Quinoa: High-Altitude Pseudo-Grain
Quinoa represents another pseudo-grain — it’s actually more closely related to spinach and beets than it is to grain plants. Almost unknown a decade ago, it’s grown in popularity in large part due to the marketing efforts of one or two companies that sell quinoa and quinoa-based pasta products. Raw quinoa needs to be processed to remove its bitter-tasting coating. Processed this way and then cooked whole in water like oatmeal, it makes a nice, slightly nutty-tasting hot cereal. Be careful here, I am allergic to the outside coating. I tried eating it twice and got sick. However, I am ok with it in gluten free pasta, I just can’t eat it out of the box.
Amaranth: Pop It Like Popcorn
Technically, amaranth is an herb, not a grain. But that didn’t stop ancient peoples in the Americas and Asia from using the plant’s seeds like a cereal grain (to be fair, you can eat the leaves as well). It’s possible to toast amaranth much like popcorn; in Mexico, bars of sweetened popped amaranth known as alegrias are very common. Amaranth is the best gluten-free grain source of iron — half a cup contains more than 40% of your daily iron requirement. It also contains plenty of calcium, magnesium and fiber, plus about 13 grams of protein.
So there you have it-you can eat gluten free grains besides rice. After all, variety is the spice of life!