What are cereals?
Cereals are the edible seeds or grains of the grass family. They provide us with:
- carbohydrate - a source of energy
- fibre - which slows digestion and absorption of nutrients from the gut and helps prevent constipation
- most B vitamins, especially thiamin, riboflavin and niacin - needed for a number of processes in the body including helping the body get energy from food and to maintain healthy skin and vision.
What are pseudocereals?
A pseudocereal is a plant which is not a grass or cereal but can be used in similar ways. Naturally gluten-freeWhen a food has less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten so it is safe for people with coeliac disease to eat.
pseudocereals include amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa.
Here we look at different grains that can be used to replace those that contain glutenA protein that is found in the cereals wheat, barley and rye.
The amaranth plant produces both leaves and seeds that are edible. Amaranth seeds can be cooked as a breakfast cereal or added to soups to provide extra flavour and thicken. Amaranth flour can be used as you would use wheat flour.
You may find amaranth flour and seeds in health food shops as well as in some Asian and Caribbean shops.
Buckwheat is a member of the rhubarb family and is known as a pseudocereal. Seeds of the buckwheat plant are ground into flour or made into flakes. Sometimes it is sold crushed and hulled, under the name of ‘buckwheat groats’ although it is also known as ‘saracen corn’.
Buckwheat flour is naturally gluten-free but as with any gluten-free grains there may be a risk of contamination with flours that contain gluten during processing, so it is important to take care to source uncontaminated flours. For more information refer to your Food and Drink DirectoryCoeliac UK’s key source of information listing thousands of foods that can be included in a gluten-free diet.
The fruit from the sweet chestnut tree can be eaten when cooked and are naturally gluten-free. Chestnut flour is made from dried, ground up chestnuts and can be used in baking. Pureed chestnuts are also good bases for stuffing poultry.
Corn, also known as maize, is naturally gluten-free and is grown across the world. Cornflour can be used as a thickener, as a coating for meat and fish, or to make a light tempura batter which is popular in Japanese cuisine.
Polenta is a cornmeal, made from ground maize and can be coarse or fine. Golden yellow in colour, in the UK, polenta often comes in the quick cook, powdered variety which can be made in minutes by adding water and simmering until it thickens. This can be served hot as a side dish with stews, casseroles or with meat. Alternatively it can be left to cool, cut into slices and fried or grilled. You can also buy ready-made polenta in blocks which can be used straight from the packet.
Millet has a mild, nutty flavour and creamy texture and can be used in a similar way to rice. The grain can be white, grey, yellow or red and is often toasted or mixed with other grains before cooking. Millet can replace couscous which is traditionally used in tabbouleh a popular Middle Eastern salad. Millet flakes can be used to make porridge and millet flour can be used in baking.
Gluten-free oats can be eaten by most people with coeliac diseaseA condition where a person is unable to eat gluten as it makes their body attack itself.
. See our page on oats for more information.
Pronounced ‘keen wa’, this pseudocereal is higher in protein compared to other grains and is also high in fibre. Quinoa is a small round grain grown in Peru and Bolivia and comes in a variety of colours including pale brown, red, purple and black. Quinoa can be used as you would rice, as a side dish, in salads such as tabbouleh, or as porridge. Research suggests that bread made from quinoa has a significantly higher antioxidant content compared to wheat bread. If you are on a vegetarian diet, quinoa is a good protein source and can be used as an alternative to meat.
Rice is a staple food that is eaten and grown in many countries across the world. There are all kinds of rice to choose from including basmati, brown rice and Arborio, a short grain rice traditionally used to make risotto. Each type has a different taste and texture. Ground up raw rice is used to make rice flour which can be used as you would wheat flour in baking, as a thickener and to make rice noodles, an alternative to wheat noodles.
Technically not rice but a grass, wild rice is naturally gluten-free, has a slightly nutty flavour and a higher protein content than rice. Generally, wild and brown rice require more liquid and take longer to cook than white varieties.
Sorghum, also called milo, is a staple food in many parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It can be eaten like popcorn, cooked to make porridge, or ground in to flour.
Teff is a type of grass native to Northeast Africa which is harvested for grain and is similar to millet. It is small in size and comes in a variety of colours from white and red to dark brown. Teff flour has a distinct nutty flavour and can be used in much the same way as other gluten-free flours and can also be used as a thickener.
Where do I buy these alternative grains / flours?
Many of these grains such as rice, polenta and quinoa can be found in your local supermarket. Some health food stores will also stock a range of alternative grains and flours or try searching on the internet for stockists.