Alternative Grain & Seed Guide

April 27, 2017

Alternative grains are one of this year's health trends. Make sure you know how to explain these to your customers.

So what’s a wheat-free, gluten-free, allergy friendly shopper supposed to choose when shopping for grains in the supermarket? Well, luckily gluten free and wheat free are gaining shelf space in the supermarket, including breads, crackers and cookies, which are all notoriously ‘wheaty’ and gluten containing foods. So if these products do not contain wheat as their main ingredient, what do they contain?

Some examples of alternative grains and seeds used in gluten free baking include quinoa, sorghum, amaranth, teff, buckwheat, millet, and rice. Keep in mind if shopping for baked goods, many gluten free products use simple carbohydrates like white rice, tapioca flour, and corn rather than the many options in complex whole grain carbohydrates which are much more nutritious, full of fiber and help keep blood sugar stable. Here are some of SupermarketGuru’s favorite alternative grains.

Amaranth dates back hundreds of years (similar to quinoa) to the Aztecs in Mexico. It contains a high quality protein and is high in fiber. Amaranth has a nutty flavor and is being used with other alternative flours in breads, pasta, pancakes and more. It boasts a superb nutritional profile and is a great source of calcium, iron, manganese and folate.

Buckwheat is another fabulous ancient seed, and is not in fact related to wheat at all! It has a mild flavor, but roasted or toasted, the flavor intensifies. Buckwheat can be ground into a flour like consistency and substituted for wheat flour. Buckwheat contains various flavonoids that provide powerful antioxidant protection against free radicals in the body. It is also a great source of fiber, manganese, magnesium, zinc and iron.

Ground flaxseeds can also be used to increase the nutrient profile of gluten free baked goods. Flaxseeds are rich in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, phytochemicals, fiber and more

Millet is also considered an ancient grain, possibly the first cereal grain to be used for domestic purposes. Across the globe millet is still used today in various ways, in India flat thin cakes called roti are often made from millet flour, the Hunzas who live in the Himalayans use millet as a cereal, in soups and for making the whole grain bread chapatti. Millet is highly nutritious and in fact, it is considered to be one of the least allergenic and easily digestible grains available. It is nearly 15 percent protein, contains high amounts of fiber, B vitamins and vitamin E; and is particularly high in the minerals iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium.

Quinoa an “ancient grain” (it’s actually a seed) was originally cultivated thousands of years ago in the South American Andes and known as “the gold of the Incas” and the “mother of all grains.” Quinoa is a very good source of magnesium, iron, and boasts a whole host of other nutrients and bioactive compounds as well as fiber. Quinoa can be ground into flour and used for baked goods or used in its whole form in place of couscous, rice or other grains in recipes.

Rice flour is a popular substitution in gluten free cooking. Brown rice flour is more nutrient dense than white rice flour, which is more commonly used to mimic white bread, cookies and cakes.

Sorghum is America’s third leading cereal crop, and in many parts of the world sorghum has traditionally been used in porridge, unleavened bread, cookies, cakes, and couscous – now it’s making its way into the gluten free aisle. Sorghum is rich in antioxidants, and is a good source of iron, fiber and protein.

You may not have heard of teff, but it’s an ancient North African cereal grass and is a nutritional knockout. It is said to be the smallest grain in the world - about 100 grains are the size of one kernel of wheat. Teff contains high levels of calcium, phosphorous, iron, and thiamin and is also a great source of protein. Teff has a mild, nutty, and a slight molasses-like sweetness.

By no means does this list include all of the gluten free substitutions – but does contain some of the most popular. Corn flour, almond flour, potato and tapioca flour are also popular gluten free substitutions.

Many of the wheat alternatives mentioned above are actually whole grains which contain all the essential parts and naturally occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. They provide fiber, vitamin E, and minerals such as iron, zinc and magnesium. The outer skin of the seed contains B vitamins, antioxidants and fiber-rich bran; the germ holds the protein, minerals and healthy fats; and the endosperm (the main part of the grain between the bran and the germ) contains protein, carbohydrates and smaller quantities of vitamins and minerals. The bran and germ contain 25 percent of the protein in whole grains and the majority of the nutrients. When highly processed, these valuable nutrients and proteins are lost - not to mention healthful fiber.