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Beyond Rice and Corn: Wheat-Free Grain Alternatives You May Not Have Tried

Amaranth, Buckwheat, Millet, Quinoa, Teff, and Wild Rice

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Updated May 01, 2014

Look at any prepackaged wheat-free or gluten-free specialty food, and it's almost a guarantee you'll find rice, corn, or potatoes among the ingredients. These starches are among the major dietary staples for many with wheat allergies or celiac disease. But lesser-known grains can add variety to your diet, and many less common grains are nutritional powerhouses. Here's an introduction to six less-common grains, plus some great wheat- and gluten-free recipes.

1. Amaranth

Amaranth, a relative of pigweed, is a lesser-known wheat-free grain often sold as flour (though you can also find whole amaranth in some health food stores or by mail order). Amaranth is nutritious: It's high in protein and fiber, making it an especially useful choice for vegetarians with food allergies.

Amaranth Recipes: Try amaranth in Amaranth Pilaf.

2. Buckwheat

In America, most people eat buckwheat -- if at all -- in the form of buckwheat pancakes or crepes. But this nutty grain (a relative of rhubarb, not wheat) is a staple of Eastern European cooking and has a hearty flavor that works especially well with wintertime root vegetable and roasted meat dishes. Whole-grain buckwheat groats are sold as kasha, and you can also find buckwheat flour in many supermarkets. Whole-grain buckwheat soba noodles are also available. But read labels carefully, as many soba noodles are made with a mixture of buckwheat and wheat.

Buckwheat Recipes: Try buckwheat in Gluten-Free Buckwheat Pancakes, Vegetarian Moussaka (see variation near bottom), and Easy Kasha.

3. Millet

A staple food in much of Africa, millet can be used almost interchangeably with rice flour and makes a good substitute for couscous in its whole state. It has a mild, somewhat nutty taste. Millet tastes best when toasted in a dry skillet before cooking.

Millet Recipes: Try millet in Millet-Herb Stuffing, Hot Millet Breakfast Cereal, and Bajra Roti.

4. Quinoa

Quinoa is touted as a "supergrain" for good reason: It's one of the most protein-rich grains and is packed with vitamins and minerals to boot. Quinoa pasta is increasingly popular; you can also find whole-grain quinoa and quinoa flour in some supermarkets. Be sure to rinse whole-grain quinoa before you cook it to remove a bitter coating called saponin that can make your quinoa taste unappealing.

Quinoa Recipes: Try quinoa in Quinoa Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette, Wheat-Free Beef and Grain Soup, and Quinoa Pilaf.

5. Teff

Teff is most associated with Ethiopia, where it is made into a traditional flatbread called injera. You may be able to find the small seeds at some health food stores or grocery co-ops. Teff is slowly becoming more widely available in America, due in part to more diagnoses of celiac disease.

Teff Recipes: Try teff in Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Multigrain Pumpkin Muffins.

6. Wild Rice

Wild Rice
Photo © David Lat, stock.xchng

Wild rice may look similar to rice, but it's actually unrelated. It cooks up differently and is a nice change of pace from "regular" rice dishes. Be aware that because wild rice takes longer to cook, you can't use wild rice in place of other types of white or brown rice in recipes without changing the cooking time and amount of liquid. Wild rice flour, which lends an unusual color and pleasant nuttiness to baked goods, is also on the market.

Wild Rice Recipes: Try wild rice in Wild Rice with Blue Cheese and Cranberries, Spring Asparagus and Wild Rice, Vegetarian Wild Rice and Mushroom Pilaf.

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