35+ Alternative Gluten-Free Grains and Flour Substitutes
Published January, 2022
If you are eating gluten-free, particularly for medical reasons, you must avoid gluten-containing grains, including wheat, barley, and rye plus all varieties and derivatives of these grains, such as spelt and malt. Despite these food eliminations, there are many wonderful gluten-free grains and grain substitutes to enjoy.
Although commonly known as “grains,” botanically speaking, some of these foods — like amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat — are “pseudocereals.” They have come to be known as grains because they are used similarly, and their nutrition profiles are generally similar. Other grain substitutes, such as cassava, are derived from plants or roots.
For baking, nut flour can make an excellent non-grain alternative, too.
We’ve compiled a list of 27 alternative grains and grain substitutes for cooking and baking.
Below is a list of gluten-free grains that can be eaten whole or milled and used as flour, often in a blend of several gluten-free flours.
Once the sacred food of the Aztecs, amaranth is high in protein, calcium, iron, and fiber. Toast this tiny grain before cooking it to bring out its nutty flavor.
TIP: Makes a delicious, creamy hot breakfast cereal. Serve with your fruit of choice on top and/or a touch of maple syrup.
Rice comes in many varieties: short-grain, long-grain, jasmine, and basmati, to name a few. Long grain rice tends to be fluffier while short-grain rice is stickier. Rice can also come in colors other than white including black, purple, brown, and red. These colorful, un-refined rice options not only offer more flavor and texture, but also contain more nutrients than refined white rice. Wild rice – though an unrelated plant — is another delicious option.
TIP: Rice leftovers are versatile additions to diverse dishes. Add rice to salads or sautéed vegetables; make rice pancakes or rice pudding; or season and use as filling for baked green peppers or winter squash. Most leftovers will stay safe to consume for three to four days. Be sure to use them within a short timeframe to avoid foodborne illness. Check here for food safety information on a particular food.
Despite the name, buckwheat is not wheat but a gluten-free member of the rhubarb family. Roasted buckwheat is called kasha. Buckwheat has an earthy, nutty, slightly bitter taste. Buckwheat is high in B vitamins, fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and zinc.
TIP: Experiment with using the cooked grain — like buckwheat “groats” or “kasha” — as you would rice. Use buckwheat flour to make delicious crepes and pancakes.
Cornmeal, Polenta, Grits, Hominy
These foods are derived from corn. Polenta is cooked yellow cornmeal that can be served as a creamy smooth side dish or left to set and served in wedges. Grits are a cornmeal made from white corn typically with the germ and bran of the kernel removed. Hominy is a form of whole grain corn that has been processed to give it an almost bean-like or meaty texture. Corn is a rich source of complex carbohydrates and B vitamins.
TIP: Use cooked, cooled, firmed-up polenta in place of lasagna noodles.
Millet is a tasty, versatile, and nutrient-dense grain that is worth trying, even though you may know it best as an ingredient in birdseed. Millet is high in B vitamins, phosphorous, magnesium, and higher in protein than corn and rice.
TIP: Cooked millet makes an appealing side dish with a fluffy texture and mild flavor.
In addition to classic oat flakes, oats come in “steel cut” form too (also known as Irish oats). These have a very different and delicious chewier texture and nuttier flavor. Both varieties can be used in sweet as well as savory dishes and are a good source of protein and fiber.
The safest oat products are ones that have been certified gluten-free. While products labeled gluten-free should comply with the FDA standards of containing less than 20 ppm of gluten, this is not third-party verified. GFCO’s standard for gluten-free certification is 10 ppm of gluten or less.
TIP: Make your own muesli by mixing oat flakes with your favorite nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. Muesli traditionally uses raw oats, but you may want to toast your oats first. Muesli options: add milk the night before or right before eating for different textures. Eat it hot or cold.
Technically a grass, quinoa is related to spinach and native to South America. Quinoa comes in several color varieties and is high in protein, fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, copper, and zinc.
TIP: Quinoa can be used much like rice. Always rinse quinoa before cooking to remove the “saponins,” a natural, bitter-tasting coating.
Unlike other grains, sorghum contains high amounts of anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant also found in blueberries. This grain is also a good source of fiber, B vitamins, iron, and potassium.
TIP: Sorghum works well as a substitute for couscous and has an appealing chewy texture and nutty flavor.
Teff is high in protein, calcium, iron, copper, and zinc. Teff has a sweet flavor and is traditionally used as flour but can also be cooked whole and used as a side dish.
TIP: Teff’s tiny size means it cooks up like porridge and makes a nice hot cereal option.
Grain Substitutes: Flour
In addition to the gluten-free grain alternatives above that can be used to make flour, here are additional flours from alternative, gluten-free sources. Remember that different flours behave differently in cooking and baking, and in many cases, flour blends yield the best results.
For the most reliable baking results, use the specific flours or blends called for in a particular recipe. As you become more experienced with gluten-free baking and cooking and learn the baking characteristics and flavors of different flours, you could try experimenting with your own choices of substitutions.
This fine powdery flour is typically used, in small amounts, as a thickener.
TIP: Make a “slurry” of arrowroot powder with a small amount of liquid. Then add to the dish you want to thicken.
Made from whole green bananas, you might find this flour used in some African and Jamaican cooking and baking. There is no banana flavor in this flour.
TIP: Because of its high starch content, try it as a thickening agent.
Brown, White, and Sweet Rice
In addition to being a grain alternative, rice is also used to make flour. White rice flour has a milder flavor and smoother texture than brown, which provides more fiber and other nutrients. Sweet rice flour is not sweet in flavor and is traditionally used in Japanese mochi and other similar desserts.
TIP: Use each as called for in specific recipes. They don’t substitute equally for one another. White rice flour can also be used as a thickener for things like gravy and cheese sauce.
This flour is made from the entire cassava root and has a relatively mild flavor.
TIP: Because it is more absorbent than wheat flour, if you choose to use it as a substitute, you may need to adjust liquid measurements.
Typically used in small amounts, chia can be used as an egg replacement or thickener and provides fiber, protein, and other nutrients.
TIP: Can be used as a binder in place of xanthan gum.
This flour has a distinctive flavor and is high in protein.
TIP: Try in traditional recipes for socca, a pancake-like flatbread eaten in Italy and France, or make chilla, a popular breakfast pancake in India.
When using coconut flour, keep in mind it does have a mild sweet coconut flavor so it is a good choice for coconut fans.
TIP: Store in fridge or freezer to keep fresh for longer.
Cornmeal or Corn Flour
Corn flour is a more finely ground version of cornmeal. The different texture yields different results in baking.
TIP: While some recipes specifically call for finer or courser corn flour (or meal), you can also often experiment to determine your own preference.
Cornstarch is commonly used in small quantities as a thickener in gravies and stir fries.
TIP: Some gluten-free baking recipes call for cornstarch as a substitute for flour. For best results, only use cornstarch as a flour substitute when the recipe calls for it.
Flax flour from ground flax seed is generally used similarly to chia flour as a binding ingredient in small amounts. Like chia flour, flax flour provides fiber, protein, and other nutrients. Also like chia, it can be used as a binder in place of xanthan gum.
TIP: Flax seeds and flax flour can go rancid quickly. Keep both refrigerated.
Hemp flour from ground hemp seeds imparts a mild nutty flavor and is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, not to mention protein.
TIP: Try this versatile flour in both baking and cooking as your main flour, in combination with other flours, or as a thickener. If using as your main substitute for wheat flour, note that you should use less than the recipe calls for because the outcome will be dense and will not rise.
Lentil flour is traditionally used in combination with rice flour to make South Indian dosa, a thin crepe-like pancake.
TIP: Because it does impart a slight lentil flavor, it’s best used in recipes that specifically call for it.
NOTE: Due to the risk of cross-contact with gluten-containing grains, lentil flour should be labeled or certified gluten-free.
A staple in Mexican cooking, this is a distinct type of corn flour made from corn treated with lime.
TIP: Use masa harina to make fresh corn tortillas or tamales.
Made from dried and ground pods of the mesquite tree; also known as mesquite powder.
TIP: This flour is often described as having a slightly caramelly and nutty flavor. Use in baking including bread, cookies, and cake.
Potato flour is different from potato starch. Specific recipes may call for either, but they cannot be substituted for each other.
TIP: Try using this flour in recipes for biscuits, gnocchi, and dumplings.
Like soybeans, this flour is high in protein.
TIP: You may have better results if you combine soy flour with starchier flours when baking.
Since seeds store what a plant needs to grow, this and other seed flours contain a concentrated source of nutrients.
TIP: Can be a good nut flour substitute for those with nut allergies.
Tapioca flour is made from cassava using only the starch from the root. It functions well as a thickener.
TIP: Tapioca flour is another good flour to have on hand for thickening sauces and gravies.
Nut flours are traditionally used in many dessert tortes and delicious in other baked goods, too. They yield moist products and provide a significant amount of protein.
- You can grind your own nut flour with a coffee grinder or food processor.
- Be careful not to “over grind,” or you will end up with nut butter instead of flour.
- Since nuts have a high fat content, store nut flours in the refrigerator or freezer so they do not go rancid too quickly.
Virtually any nut can be ground into flour. Experiment with your favorite nuts. Some of our favorites include Almond, Hazelnut, and Walnut. One nut flour you may not have tried is Chestnut. Chestnuts are lower in fat and protein than other nuts, so this delicately flavored flour will yield different results than traditional nut flours. Try it in a traditional Italian chestnut cake.
With so many alternatives and substitutes to wheat, barley, and rye, cooking and baking gluten-free doesn’t mean limited options anymore.
This article has been assessed and approved by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
The information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare team when considering this information.
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