6 Gluten-Free Whole Grains and How to Use Them

Banana Buckwheat Cereal

(Banana Buckwheat Cereal | To Live and Diet in LA, via Yummly)

We’ve all heard the advice to eat more whole grains because of their superior fiber content and nutrient density. However, steering clear of gluten due to celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or lifestyle considerations can lead some people to avoid whole grains altogether — or opting for brown rice over and over again! The good news is: individuals on a gluten-free diet can actually enjoy a wide variety of gluten-free whole grains that are delicious, versatile and full of nutritional benefits. Read on to learn about 6 gluten-free whole grains (beyond brown rice) that are worth adding to your pantry, along with useful tips for how to enjoy them.

Which Whole Grains Contain Gluten?

As a refresher, the following whole grains contain gluten and should be avoided when following a gluten-free diet:

  • Whole wheat and other varieties of wheat, including farro, spelt, kamut, bulgur, semolina, etc.
  • Barley, rye, triticale

Additionally, during growing or processing there can be cross-contamination of grains with and without gluten. Therefore, when looking for any grains (even inherently gluten-free grains like oats), make sure the package explicitly states that the package is gluten-free and/or was processed in a facility that does not process wheat or gluten-containing grains.  

Gluten-Free Whole Grain #1: Amaranth

What It Is: Amaranth is an ancient grain that isn’t actually a cereal grain at all. Stemming from Central and South America, amaranth is a pale beige pseudo-cereal. It isn’t technically a member of the same family as cereal grains, but has a similar nutrient profile and can be used in similar culinary applications. Amaranth is one of the more fiber- and protein-rich grains, with 2.6 grams of fiber and 4.67 grams of protein per ½ cup cooked.

What It Looks Like: Small, round beige or cream-colored pearls.  

How to Use It: Prepare by boiling in water or broth for 15 to 20 minutes. One cup dry yields approximately 3 cups cooked. Amaranth has a mildly nutty flavor profile and is a bit sticky compared to fluffy grains like quinoa or couscous. You can use it in both savory or sweet recipes and swap it in for hot breakfast cereal, in salads, in soups and stews or as sides. You can even pop it and eat it as a crunchy snack or garnish.

Recipe Inspiration:

Gluten-Free Whole Grain #2: Buckwheat


What It Is: Like amaranth, buckwheat is also a pseudo-cereal with origins in Eastern Europe and Asia.  Actually a grass, buckwheat grows well in dry weather and undernourished soil, which has been a benefit to farmers for thousands of years. In addition to being  gluten-free, toasty buckwheat, also known as “kasha,” has more fiber and protein than brown rice and contains a variety of minerals and B vitamins.

What It Looks Like: Small, golden brown, pyramid-shaped groats.

How to Use It: Prepare by boiling buckwheat groats in water or broth for 20 minutes, then let stand for 5 to 7 minutes. One cup of dry groats yields 3 to 3.5 cups of cooked buckwheat. Buckwheat has a very distinctive grassy and nutty flavor, so it may not be a one-to-one swap in all recipes. However, it is an excellent hearty addition to recipes with mild, savory flavor profiles. Buckwheat flour is also an excellent ingredient for making crepes, pancakes and muffins, and buckwheat noodles make a hearty base for a variety of Asian-inspired dishes.

Recipe Inspiration:

Gluten-Free Whole Grain #3: Millet

What It Is: Millet is a group of ancient grains originating from Asia, and grown mostly in India and Africa today. There are many different kinds of millet; one of the most popular is pearl millet (commonly used for bird seed). Millet is relatively high in protein and niacin compared to other ancient grains, with 3 grams of protein and 1.16 milligrams of niacin per ½ cup of cooked millet.

What It Looks Like: Small, round golden beads.

How to Use It: For standard, porridge-like consistency, boil 1 cup millet per 2.5 cups water or broth for 25 to 35 minutes. One cup dry yields 3.5 cups cooked. For a fluffier end product, toast millet in a pan for 4 to 6 minutes, then cook in 2 cups liquid for 1 cup dry grain, reducing cooking time slightly to 15 to 20 minutes and letting stand for 10 minutes after.  Because of its mild flavor profile, millet is extremely versatile, so you can use it in just about any preparation. Make it into a sweet or savory hot porridge or as a fluffy addition to any soup, stew or side dish. It’s also great as a stir-fry and tops salads beautifully.

Recipe Inspiration:

Gluten-Free Whole Grain #4: Quinoa

What It Is: Originally from South America, quinoa is an ancient grain and pseudo-cereal that’s more recently become popular in the U.S. Quinoa is higher in fiber and folate than comparable grains and pseudo-grains and particularly high in protein. In fact, unlike other grains or plant proteins, quinoa contains all 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.

What It Looks Like: Tiny white, dark red or black specks.

How to Use It: It’s best to rinse quinoa before preparation, unlike some of the other grains we discussed. Cook 1 cup rinsed quinoa with 2 cups water, bring to a boil and cook 12 to 15 minutes, and let stand until fluffy. Light-colored quinoa has a mild flavor profile and softer texture, while darker quinoa can be chewier and nuttier in flavor. Quinoa often comes blended as a tricolor product, which is overall mild and balanced from a flavor standpoint. Use this versatile grain in salads, sides, soups, casseroles, stuffing, cereal — you can swap it into just about any recipe for a high-protein, nutritious, gluten-free boost. Pasta products and flours made from quinoa make great, nutty-flavored substitutes for their whole-wheat counterparts.

Recipe Inspiration:

Gluten-Free Whole Grain #5: Sorghum

What It Is: Originally from northern Africa, sorghum is cultivated and eaten all over the world. Because it is typically eaten with its outer layer, sorghum is rich in fiber and B vitamins.

What It Looks Like: Small round kernels of varying colors, most often light yellow

How to Use It: Prepare by bringing 1 cup dry sorghum and 2.5 cups liquid to a boil, and cook for 40 minutes. One cup of dry sorghum yields approximately 3 cups cooked grain. With its mild flavor profile and a chewy consistency, sorghum can easily be substituted for any recipe that calls for rice, couscous or wheat berries. You can also use all-purpose sorghum flour in place of whole-wheat flour for your favorite baked goods such as pies, cookies or waffles. Finally, sorghum can be popped just like popcorn on a stovetop or in a microwave and enjoyed as a simple snack.

Recipe Inspiration:

Green Beans with Benne & Sorghum

Gluten-Free Whole Grain #6: Teff

What It Is: Teff, an annual grass, is an ancient pseudo-grain from Africa and a staple in Ethiopian cuisine. Quick and easy to prepare, teff has a light and sweet flavor, and is used to make traditional Ethiopian pancakes called injera, used as edible plates. Teff is very nutrient-dense and packs more protein per serving in protein, fiber and calcium and magnesium than other ancient grains.

What It Looks Like: Tiny multi-colored seeds ranging in color from ivory to dark red. Also can be purchased as a flour.  

How to Use It: Prepare by adding 1 cup dry grain to 3 cups liquid, bring to a boil and cook for 20 minutes, then let rest for 5 minutes. Teff can be seasoned with herbs and spices like cinnamon, cardamom and ginger and eaten just like a porridge or as a side dish. It can also be used as a topping in salads and soups if dry-cooked (let 1 cup grain stand for 5 to 7 minutes in water, rinse and enjoy). Finally, teff flour is a great substitute for wheat flour in any baked goods, such as pie crusts, muffins, breads and pancakes.

Recipe Inspiration:

Baked Southwest Teff Burgers

Gluten-Free Vegan Teff Stuffing

Leave a Comment